What Your Bedtime Says About You

In 1670 John Ray coined the phrase ‘The early bird catches the worm’, before him ‘It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom’ said Aristotle

‘Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it’ proclaimed Richard Whately It is drilled into our heads throughout our entire lives that it’s better for us to get to bed early and wake up at the crack of dawn In doing so we can, supposedly, get more done and live richer, happier lives So, when do you like to go to bed? 30% of the population are ‘Night Owls’, they prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, sometime in the afternoon

40% of people are ‘Morning Larks’ they are more than happy to wake up at the crack of dawn but go to bed early And the remaining 30% of people are somewhere in between but usually have a slight leaning towards preferring either evening or morning This is referred to by scientists as your chronotype So, what’s your chronotype? The issue that night owls have is that they are socially shunned They are called lazy and immature

People often wrongly assume that a night owl’s inability to wake up early is by choice and they are berated for this, but the truth is, such people may not be able to help their late rising and forcing night owls to wake up early can actually have disastrous health consequences As far as scientists have observed, all creatures on Earth, with lifespans longer than a few days, are subject to a circadian rhythm, in Latin ‘circa’ meaning ‘around’ and ‘diēm’ for ‘day’ It is the natural 24-hour repeating sleep-wake cycle that determines when we feel drowsy and it’s time for sleep and it also hints when our bodies should awaken from slumber Controlled by the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus – a tiny part of your brain inside your hypothalamus The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus is your internal clock

The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus is excellent at keeping time without any external influence In 1962 French geologist Michel Siffre spent two months deep underground in a cave where not a splash of light was able to reach him He found that his circadian rhythm was able to keep his sleep/wake routine accurate to around 24 hours, but it would often overshoot by up to half an hour This revealed that our Suprachiasmatic Nucleus is great at approximating time, but without a fixed reference it is unable to maintain it precisely, to the minute We now know that the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus synchronises itself and thus our circadian rhythm with the sun

Interestingly, however, if you were to, hypothetically, live in a permanently dark environment, with no sun, such as your mother’s basement, and perhaps you do, then your circadian rhythm would sync itself to any other consistency that happens on a repeating 24-hour cycle, such as temperature fluctuations or remarkably, even your daily morning coffee These time aligning events are called Zeitgebers, literally 'time giver’ and they are how blind people maintain their circadian rhythms There are two important chemicals involved in sleep, melatonin and adenosine Melatonin, released by the pineal gland, communicates with our Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, telling it when its time for sleepiness to kick in It is released in large amounts around our typical bedtime, or annoyingly when you really want to watch just one more episode of that Netflix series

Its release slows down whilst we sleep, eventually halting production altogether when it is time for us to wake up Think of Adenosine, however, like sleep pressure It is released in increasing quantities throughout the day and it swells up more in volume in our bloodstream the longer we are awake It slows down our neurons which causes us to feel drowsy After this sleep pressure builds up to extreme levels, we can no longer fight off sleep

You know that feeling when you’re sat at your desk in the early afternoon and your head suddenly drops into a micro-slumber and then your neck snaps it back up, because you would hate to be fired from yet another job for sleeping at your desk This is because the levels of Adenosine in your body have caused your neurons to slow down to such a level that you can no longer physically stay awake A power nap is in order This afternoon drowsiness happens to us all since Adenosine release spikes during the afternoon and then again just before bedtime So perhaps siestas are just meant to be after all

Although research has shown that this afternoon drowsiness only occurs in people who regularly fail to get sufficient sleep at night time, so if you have experienced this, you need more sleep Adenosine and your circadian rhythm are completely independent but related systems If you have ever pulled an all-nighter, you will have experienced Adenosine in action and how it jostles for control with your circadian rhythm During the first day Adenosine or ‘sleep pressure’ builds up in your system as normal and by that evening your circadian rhythm decides it's time for sleep and you will feel tired But if you can make it through this period of extreme drowsiness and low energy levels until the morning then you will experience a second wind

But why? Adenosine will never stop being released and broken down – until you actually sleep By morning the Adenosine levels in your body will have reached extremely high levels but, nonetheless, you have a new rush of energy during this time because your circadian rhythm doesn’t care that you haven’t actually slept It keeps marching on relentlessly, up and down, every 24 hours, along with the cycle of the sun Your Suprachiasmatic Nucleus is an accurate but somewhat blind timepiece So when morning comes your circadian rhythm does its usual wake up routine and infuses your body with a rush of energy that will last throughout the morning

This overrides the neural slowdown caused by all that built up Adenosine However, as the afternoon draws in on your second day without sleep your circadian rhythm starts to wind down your body as bedtime draws closer yet again But this time, the Adenosine levels in your body have built up to unholy levels and are ready to burst, so when these two independent systems once again sync up you will experience an almighty energy crash and sleep is almost inevitable Research on DNA samples of 90,000 people collected by 23andMe revealed that our bias towards being a Night Owl or a Morning Lark is roughly 50% due to of our DNA and it can never be altered, although it does usually shift slightly more towards a morning bias as we grow older It’s believed the reason the population is split in their DNA preferences for earlier or later bedtimes is that in our hunter-gatherer days having this divide played a crucial and beneficial role

It’s hardly surprising that in our prehistoric days, when we lived in tribes and we had rival tribes and deadly predators stalking the forests and plains of an evening, then having some members of the tribe awake at all times was quite handy As long as Bob and Steve were awake from 12 am until 5 am when Dave usually woke up, then they could keep an eye out for Dave And then, Dave would continue the watch after Bob and Steve fall asleep at 5 am Evolution determined that hardwiring varying peaks and troughs of awakeness and sleepiness for a portion of the population then it would ensure that there would always be at least one person awake in each tribe to keep watch because these people would feel naturally inclined to still be awake whilst others weren't and more importantly, they would still be alert We can shift our circadian rhythm somewhat, by up to an hour each night, if we change our sleep pattern

But we will always have a natural circadian ‘template’, a default time of the day when we are biologically predetermined to fall asleep based on our immutable DNA Scientists have now recently been able to sequence and observe the unique DNA in each of us that causes these variations in our chronotypes So being a night owl is in your DNA, and whether or not you are lazy, the fact that you may struggle to wake up is not your fault but is in fact hardwired in your biology The brain of a night owls functions best in the evening When they wake up their prefrontal cortex, the front part of the brain that is responsible for logic and decision making is still ‘offline’

MRI brain scans of night owls have revealed that this part of the brain, in particular, has a warm-up phase, where it will slowly ramp up into life over the course of the morning and reach peak efficiency in the late afternoon or early evening Morning larks are the opposite, their prefrontal cortex is at its peak at dawn and it loses effectiveness as the evening draws in This begs an important question If 30% of the population are unable to use their brains in the morning, are employers making a mistake in forcing such people to come into work at 9 am? At a time when these people are unable to work efficiently and may make more mistakes in the workplace Furthermore, asking these people to wake up and come to work so early can be detrimental to their health and cause them to die sooner

Some people may belligerently proclaim ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ but those people will be dead very soon because tens of reputable studies on millions of people have been conducted on the relationship between sleep and health Overwhelmingly these studies have found that people who don’t get the required eight hours of sleep per night die sooner Adults older than 45 who sleep less than six hours per night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke And at any age, evidence suggests that if you sleep for less than six hours per night for a period of 14 years then your risk of heart disease increases by a whopping 500%! Generally, a lack of sleep has been strongly linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia So then, it seems that more flexible work schedules are needed worldwide that are better tailored to the sleeping habits of individuals

Employers will be rewarded with employees who work harder, smarter, more efficiently and importantly don’t die so damn quickly If you are a night owl and you suspect that your inability to wake up and function early in the morning is holding you back in life then I encourage you to think again Research conducted at Southampton University analysed the sleeping habits, ie chronotype, health and wealth of over 1,000 subjects in England Contrary to what every supposed soothsaying business guru has told you, night owls were found to be, on average, wealthier than morning larks – those who went to bed later had a larger mean income and were more likely to own a car

And a later study also found that night owls were slightly more intelligent than morning larks Interestingly these results were still true even when the participants took intelligence tests again in the morning instead of the afternoon – night owls still performed better, during a time of the day when their neural functionality is supposed to be suboptimal It’s not all bad for morning chronotypes, however, In 2012 psychologists at the University of Toronto studied over 700 people and found that morning larks are on average happier and have a better general mood throughout the day Morning larks are also more agreeable, more cooperative and more conscientious I’ve recently launched my first book which I’m crowdfunding ‘Stick a Flag in it: 1,000 years of bizarre history from britain and beyond’ and I’m so pleased to announce that the crowdfunding campaign has reached 100% so it’s definitely going to be published

But there are still stretch goals to reach So if you want a first-edition signed copy then head on over to Unbound, the link is in the description, watch the launch video if you haven’t already and pledge today Thank you

About Thoughty2

Thoughty2 (Arran) is a British YouTuber and gatekeeper of useless facts. Thoughty2 creates mind-blowing factual videos, on the weirdest, wackiest and most interesting topics. Combining fascinating lists with answers to life's biggest questions.

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