Have Trouble Getting Out of Bed In The Morning? Your Body Clock May Run Longer Than 24 Hours
For some people, getting out of bed each morning is a daily struggle that can disrupt their lives. Making matters worse is when daylight savings time begins and we move the clocks forward in March, further creating instability in our cycle. Some experts believe some people have internal body clocks that run longer than 24 hours, or at the very least have slower adapting mechanisms to the traditional daily cycle. This means they are out of sync with daily rhythms and that the body's internal clock does not effectively create a signal that divides the circadian cycle into two distinct periods that mesh with societal expectations--a biological day and a biological night.
Body Clocks Run Longer Than 24 Hours
This internal clock, or circadian rhythm, controls when we sleep and wake and plays a role in other biological processes as well, such as temperature regulation and hormone production.
It affects up to 15 percent of teenagers but can be a life-long condition. Study leader, Professor Leon Lack, said initial results showed that the internal body clocks of some people with issues rising can run slower than average.
'Late sleepers can't get to sleep until 2am or 3am at the earliest, or in some cases as late as 4am, which makes it very hard for them to get up for their commitments the next day,' he said.
'We've been investigating what causes people to be late sleepers and one of the most plausible explanations we're perusing is that their body clocks run longer than 24 hours.
'Most people have a 24-hour body clock, it's a natural rhythm that influences sleepiness and core body temperature but for people with delayed sleep phases, it takes longer to complete the cycle so they tend to go to bed later and wake up later.'
Daylight Savings Time Does Not Benefit Human Health
For nearly a century, about 70 nations have been springing forward and falling back. Are there really any benefits?
Not really. Whether or not we should get that extra sleep has spurred some passionate debate from many disparate groups.
Every cell in your body has its own internal clock, including cells in your immune system. Each cell's internal clock helps it prepare for a stress or stimulus. When we mess with that internal clock, your cells are not able to prepare for the usual stresses.
So, when you set your clock forward and miss an hour of sleep that your cells were expecting, the negative impact of stress worsens, having a detrimental effect on your body. Immune response and inflammation vary with the time of day. Your immune function is temporarily compromised while your body "resyncs"--even if your sleep is decreased by only an hour. This is why many people feel so discombobulated right after the time change.
A recent study suggests turning your clock ahead for DST may set the stage for an increased risk of heart attack the following day.
A study, published in 2007 in the journal BMC Biology, combined surveys from 55,000 people in central Europe with data on 50 individuals' sleeping and wakefulness patterns for eight weeks around the shifts to and from daylight saving time.
The researchers found people never fully adjust their circadian rhythms to the hour shift associated with daylight saving time (or, as it is known in Europe, summer time). Springing ahead by an hour, however, was most difficult for night owls -- people prone to wake up and go to sleep late, they found.
Why Do We Continue Shifting Time?
To better understand the situation, it's best to look at why we do this annual clock change each fall and spring. Agrarian cultures built their societies around sunlight, waking up with the sun to toil in the field and heading home as the sun lowered beneath the horizon. But the Industrial Revolution, and electricity in particular, brought the freedom to unshackle us from nature's clock.
As far back as 1897, countries began instituting daylight saving time, adding an hour of sunlight to the day. This meant communities could be more productive -- people could work longer, and when work was done it was still bright enough to run errands and stimulate the economy. The added daylight also meant more exposure to vitamin D and the added time for people to exercise outdoors.
Michael Downing, a teacher at Tufts University and the author of "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time," says messing with the clock doesn't really save energy. "Daylight saving is still a boon to purveyors of barbecue grills, sports and recreation equipment, and the petroleum industry, as gasoline consumption increases every time we increase the length of the daylight saving period," Downing stated. "Give Americans an extra hour of after-dinner daylight, and they will go to the ballpark or the mall -- but they won't walk there."
It doesn't look like those issues with springing forward and falling back will end soon. As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the U.S. Congress pushed daylight saving time three to four weeks deeper into the fall in an effort to combat growing energy problems, or so they say.
Another study published in 2008, also found evidence that one's status as an owl or a lark mattered. After examining the sleep cycles of nine volunteers, researchers suggest the transition into daylight saving time in spring was more problematic for owls, while the transition out in fall was more problematic for larks, they write in the journal BMC Physiology. [Life's Extremes: Night Owl vs. Morning Lark]
Clock shifts disrupt sleep and reduce its efficiency. Effects on seasonal adaptation of the circadian rhythm can be severe and last for weeks. A 2008 study found that male suicide rates rise in the weeks after the spring transition. A 2008 Swedish study found that heart attacks were significantly more common the first three weekdays after the spring transition, and significantly less common the first weekday after the autumn transition. The government of Kazakhstan cited health complications due to clock shifts as a reason for abolishing DST in 2005.
The most important consideration of DST should be its effect on health. In societies with fixed work schedules it provides more afternoon sunlight for outdoor exercise but that flips in the winter. It alters sunlight exposure; whether this is beneficial depends on one's location and daily schedule, as sunlight triggers vitamin D synthesis in the skin preventing a myriad of diseases. Sunlight strongly influences seasonal affective disorder so those affected experience many symptoms in the winter months due to DST.
It seems clear the hour time shift can interfer with sleep. And sleep problems have been associated with everything from disasters, such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident and the Challenger space shuttle explosion to health problems, such as obesity and psychiatric problems.
Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation, rises with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure. Light therapy has been used successfully for decades to treat delayed sleep phase and seasonal affective disorder.
"We looked at the effect of light on learned fear, because light is a pervasive feature of the environment that has profound effects on behavior and physiology," said Psychologist Brian Wiltgen, an assistant professor of psychology and an expert on learning. "Studies show that light influences learning, memory and anxiety," Wiltgen said. "We have now shown that light also can modulate conditioned fear responses."
Commenting further on his most recent study, Professor Leon Lack said wider tests with a larger population would now need to be conducted to confirm the findings of his research.
'If we establish what we're expecting to find it will reinforce therapies that we know can help, such as bright light therapy to induce alertness in the mornings and melatonin to encourage earlier evening sleepiness,' said Professor Lack.
'Exposing people to a bright light as early in the day as possible informs the body clock that it should be awake so therefore they fall asleep and wake up earlier on subsequent nights.'
He said it was imperative to find a cause of the condition as it affected so many people.
'It causes young people to be late for school and when they do get to school they're inattentive until their body clock finally wakes up.
'Adults can also have trouble holding down jobs because they're always running late for work so it does have a detrimental effect on lives,' he said.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.