Whether You Are An Early Bird Or A Night Owl Is Genetic!

Working DayNow I am an early bird, I prefer to get up and get things done. I hate lateness and lazy attitudes from others first thing in the morning. I consider night owls to be somewhat lazy people and non-conformist but according to latest scientific research by neurogeneticist Dr Louis Ptacek of University of California “Whether you prefer being up at dawn or burning the midnight oil depends on your genes” The scientists have come to realise the importance of understanding a person’s chronotype, which is the time of the day when they function the best.

They say that knowing how much of a lark or an owl we are should help us live more healthily in the modern 24/7 world.

That may be so but most organisations still expect employees to be in by 9am sharp!

Here’s the science bit – The research involved fruit flies and mice and the isolation of a specific gene which when they mutated they could get it to make a different protein that then affected the rhythm of the circadian clock!

Will this one day lead to a pill we could take to change our natural body clocks?

We all have internal circadian clocks – the master clock is made up of thousands of nerve cells in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a wing – shaped structure located in the hypothalamus, at the base of the brain.

The hypothalamus controls all kinds of bodily functions, from releasing hormones to regulating temperature and water intake. This internal clock is reset every day by light.

You might expect that since the earth’s day lasts 24 hours, everyone’s clocks would run to a similar schedule. But they don’t. That’s why there are larks and owls.

The scientists also discovered that the famous trait of lateness of teenagers is a “real thing” “We can show that the famous lateness of teenagers is a real thing. They get later through childhood and puberty and reach a point of lateness at 19 and a half for women and 21 for men. It was so clear it was astonishing.”

As someone that trains young business apprentices I really must remember this when I am waiting in the classroom for latecomers! Some people who are forced to work hours outside their preferred norm may well be suffering from exhaustion.

The scientists have developed the theory of “Social jet lag” to describe and measure the sleep deprivation many suffer during the working or studying week, when we rely on alarm clocks to get us out of bed.

They found that the middle of people’s sleep on work days is usually earlier than that on free days.

The difference is their social jet lag. “On average people accumulate one to two hours of social jet lag, though some can get up to five hours, particularly in the young, who still have to get to work at the same time as older people,” says Prof Roenneberg.

He also said that “Having social jetlag is like flying from New York to London every weekend. And it’s harder to get over social jet lag than time zone jet lag.” He recommends “We should be changing work times and making them more individual to fit in with our chronotypes. If that’s not possible we should be more strategic about light exposure. He suggests “You should try to go to work not in a covered vehicle but on a bike. The minute the sun sets we should use things that have no blue light, like computer screens and other electronic devices.”

In summary, as business leaders and managers we have to face the fact that some work place stress is caused by people having to work outside of their natural ‘body clock’ working hours. Teenage staff are not late because they are lazy it’s because their ‘clocks’ are set to night owl mode by Mother Nature.

There was a drive in the early part of this century towards more flexible business hours and home working practices, but in the recession many businesses reverted to traditional work patterns. What do you think?

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training | Management Blog | Image courtesy by Renjith Krishnan of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Management Blog Call To Action