What Makes Your Internal Clock Tick?

2280272.jpgWe all have different personalities. Some of us are introverts while others are extroverts and many of us fall somewhere in between. Add that to our individual life experiences and you might say that every person is as intricately unique as a snowflake, similar in the grand scheme of things but truly very uniquely constructed

It’s no wonder that a new body of evidence has emerged suggesting that this human uniqueness extends to our sleep. In other words, we all follow different patterns and our internal clocks don’t all tick the same. Whereas one person may be naturally inclined to wake early no matter what, another person might be built to rise late or always sleep the same amount no matter when they get to bed. 

With this new knowledge in mind the next logical question is what does it mean for our quality of life, health and productivity? Stretching back as far as recorded history it has been ingrained in us to believe that early to bed and early to rise was a sign of good character. Those that chose to stay up late at night or rise later in the day were considered lazy and unproductive. When put in historical context, this makes perfect sense. Back in the days before electricity, we relied on the light of the day to farm the land and get things done. If a person missed out on that window of time, his or her family would likely be cold without firewood or go unfed without the harvest.

Fast forward to today however, and modern conveniences such as electricity have allowed us a new way of learning and working. This has revealed the one-size-fits all sleeping schedule as antiquated and potentially detrimental to our health, according to chronobiologists.

Chronobiology, refers to the science or study of the effect of time, especially rhythms, on living systems. An article in Fastcoexist.comhighlights the work of one German chronobiologist, Till Roenneberg. His book “Internal Time” explores the theory that there are two polar-opposite types of internal clocks, relating back to our overall personalities. The article explains,

…type As who wake up early in morning, even on weekends; and type Bs, who accumulate "social jet lag" during the week—the difference between their personal clock and the socially-directed one—that they need to work off by sleeping longer at weekends.”

If this theory is true then it adds weight to the idea that the old one size fits all model of a 9 to 5 work schedule. An article in the NYTimes reinforces this idea stating that,

Sleeping out of sync with your innate preferences can be detrimental to your health, especially for late chronotypes, who tend to be the most at odds with typical work schedules.”

This has been backed up by numerous studies, bringing to light both the physical effects, such as obesity, and the mental effects, such as depression,associated with going against one’s internal clock. When work schedules get in the way of our natural sleep habits our bodies often react negatively. While most of us don’t have the luxury of dictating when we get up to go to work, the evidence here suggests that considering an individual’s internal clock could very well boost productivity in the workplace.

Camilla Kring, a Danish PhD in work-life issues argues in Fastcoexist.com that, "We could have a lot of productivity if we could design working times for A persons and for B persons.” Kring who has begun working with individual companies to identify the different chronotypes amongst their workers, goes on to say that, "You have to make a more individual work and life design and then have a social acceptance of different ways of working if you want to unleash it in your company."

Denmark has also made moves to give optional school start-time. There has been notable improvement in student learning simply by giving kids the option to begin school one hour later.

It seems that the U.S. and other countries have some catching up to do in this area. If your boss isn’t receptive to your internal clock, Roenneberg’s book contains a few suggestions for limiting the damage. These include getting outside in the sunlight as often as possible.


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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