Sneaking in at night and then massaging the truth to your parents about what time you really got in, just got a whole bunch more difficult.
Well not really, but just imagine for a moment that you could, as a parent, take advantage of the following piece of research fresh out of Japan.
Pulling your hair out
We’ve covered circadian rhythms a bit of late. Well get this. While you can tell by some simple observation when you feel tired and when you naturally wake up and therefore determine your daily cycle, there’s a newer, much cooler way.
The whole clock thing is managed by the hypothalamus, which also manages hormones, sleep, hunger and such. It has strong links with other parts of your brain such as the pituitary gland, the master gland.
When it comes to setting the clock, we need to understand how our clock genes work. What you need to know is this. Clock genes are expressed in various ways, and in various places through the body. This means that if we take a slab of, for example, your liver, we can determine, by reading the clock as it were, what your daily cycle is. However, there are some problems doing this regularly. Not the least of which is the repeated slabs of liver.
But what we know now is that we can also read the clock elsewhere, without having to get tissue from internal organs. We can pull a piece of your hair. Clock genes are, it seems, expressed accurately in the follicle of head hair and, more awkwardly, the hair on your chin. Clearly the little pigs were on to something. By measuring the genes expressed in hair follicles, we can tell what your normal, natural daily cycle is.
(By the way, gene expression means the process by which information from your genes is used to make something, usually a protein. In this case, clock genes make protein in your follicles.)
So while the home testing kit that proves your child’s circadian rhythm is different from the advertised version by three hours or so is unlikely to eventuate, there are some implications.
So here’s the take home bit
We each have a normal, natural rhythm, unless you’ve seen me dancing and this whole argument fails. But it’s true of circadian rhythms, and fits what we call a Chronotype. (Chronos is a highbrow way of saying time, hence words like chronology and synchronize. So why say wristwatch when you can say carpal chronometer instead? And why say you slept in when you can say that your Chronotype Irregularity Syndrome is playing up right now?)
A chronotype is at its simplest the type of clock we have – early birds and late birds, larks and owls. And those in the middle. Our chronotype can be reflected in our gene expression, which is how we can tell what your natural cycle is, especially when we map it against what we know of your lifestyle.
And the more disparate your lifestyle from your clock, the more problems you’re likely to have. Which is a big deal in shift work, jet lag, students and now, with international communication so easy, online meetings running across time zones.
So, back to having good sleep, and matching our lifestyle with our daily cycle.
Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat
Gene expression, Chronotype, Carpal Chronometer, Chronotype Irregularity Syndrome
What do you think?
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