Genetic sleeping patterns
We recently (and agonisingly) moved our clocks forward one hour, and some of us are probably still paying the price for that lost hour. Your phone and watch might be accurately ticking along, but your body clock, or circadian rhythms, are still trying to catch up to this adjustment.
The clock gene
This years’ Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to the trio who discovered the genetic mechanism behind the body clock. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young found the how the pieces of the sleeping puzzle came together by answering three questions:
- What gene is responsible for the body clock?
Answer: The Period gene. This gene produces the protein PER, which accumulates during the night and degrades during the day.
- How is this process regulated?
Answer: The Timeless gene. This gene produces TIM protein; when bound to the PER protein, they work together to turn off the Period gene so it temporarily stops producing PER.
- What dictates the frequency?
Answer: The Doubletime gene. This gene encodes the DBT protein to delay the accumulation of PER.
What does your body clock do?
Nearly all, if not all, life on the planet lives according to time. Diurnal/nocturnal/crepsular species exhibit similar tendencies during their waking and sleeping hours, even though these hours are hugely different between them. In humans, our body clocks determine how and when we sleep, hormone production, blood pressure and temperature. In humans, we find that:
Between 6am to 12pm: Early morning cortisol release, fastest increase in blood pressure, and high alertness
Between 12pm to 6pm: Best period of coordination, fastest reaction times and highest body temperature
Between 6pm to 12am: Highest blood pressure and melatonin secretion
Between 12am to 6am: Deep sleep and lowest body temperature
How can this help you sleep?
Controlling your light sources: One of the key findings from the Nobel laureates is that light can have an effect on the time genes and their associated proteins; otherwise jetlag would eventually drive you crazy rather than make you take an extra day or two of recovery.
Your phone, tv, laptops and monitors produce harsh and strong light. Even before you’re getting to bed, you should let the darkness in naturally. Using smaller and duller lights can be a better alternative to a room light that illuminates everything.
Daytime is for doing: It can be hard to be active during the day if you have an office job, so try to get in as much activity as you can. This might mean a ten minute walking break for every hour or two of work, or doing intense exercise during your lunch break.
Drink your coffee later: Your blood pressure rises quickly in the morning like an engine coming to life. Because your body is naturally getting ready to face the day, your coffee isn’t really needed till this start-up wears off later in the afternoon.
Need more healthy sleeping advice? Check out our article on beating sleep anxiety.
Source: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017
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