Blame it on your genes!
This biobank study of over 280,000 Brits traced chronotype or whether you’re naturally a morning or evening person to a single gene (ARL14EP) with some additional alleles that boost the effect of daylight exposure on ‘morningness’ – or how wide awake you feel first thing – Genome-wide gene by environment study of time spent in daylight and chronotype identifies emerging genetic architecture underlying light sensitivity.
This groundbreaking study noted a clear link between how sensitive you are to light and whether you’re the kind of person who feels like your creative spark is just firing up when everyone else is fast asleep. This could help explain the over 50-fold difference in sensitivity to evening light between healthy adults. So even a small amount of light at night is more likely to keep a natural night owl wide awake while their larkish friends twitter off to bed.
Burning the midnight oil is fine if you shift your morning schedule to get the sleep you need to stay healthy and happy. The problem comes when you burn the candle at both ends, staying up late and getting up in time to get the kids to school or log on for an international call.
Millions of us store up that sleep deficit to the weekend and try to catch up. That’s called social jet lag – more than one hour difference between bedtime and wake up times between working and free days. Social jetlag is a recipe for disaster – increased risk of depression – The relationship between chronotype and depressive symptoms: A meta-analysis; heart disease – Impact of Circadian Disruption on Cardiovascular Function and Disease; feeling stressed at work – Association of sleep duration on workdays or free days and social jetlag with job stress. I could go on!
That’s compounded by eating late – Does the Proximity of Meals to Bedtime Influence the Sleep of Young Adults? A Cross-Sectional Survey of University Students, and spending time online. Turns out that the glow from the screen may not be as important as the fact that you’re busy doing stuff and not going to sleep! – Two hours of evening reading on a self-luminous tablet vs. reading a physical book does not alter sleep after daytime bright light exposure
So what’s the answer?
You probably your genes increase your risk of putting on weight, feeling a bit down or suffering from a host of inherited diseases. Not much you can do about that.
But you may also know that nurture – your mental and physical environment – can make a massive difference play to how those risks play out. A new way of thinking about how behaviour changes gene expression, called epigenetics suggests that your choices today can affect which genes are switched on – and which ones stay off – within a single generation.
If you’re a night owl but have to be awake with the larks, knowing you’re supremely sensitive to light could hold the key to hacking your genes and getting the rest you need to rise and shine.
1/ Cut evening light to a minimum (particularly ‘cool’ blue light sources) – Evening light environments can be designed to consolidate and increase the duration of REM-sleep, and install black-out curtains or blinds if light pollution is an issue – which sadly is pretty much everywhere!
2/ Shift mealtimes earlier- at least two hours before and avoid sugar and caffeine in the afternoon. – The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Drinking water earlier in the day could reduce the need to get up in the night too.
3/ Get up and outside first thing- even on these gloomy mornings, the light is likely to be tens if not hundreds of times brighter outside than it is indoors. That will help your super-sensitive body clock to stay on track.
It’s National Walk to School day in the States
It’s raining, the kids have kit to carry – plus you’re already late for work.
But just think about the money you’ll save!
1/ Cut the cost of prescription glasses – time outside can cut children’s myopia risk by up to 50% – Light Signaling and Myopia Development: A Review. In the USA, kids’ glasses will set you back $200-$300 in the USA if you don’t have insurance – How Much Are Eyeglasses Without Insurance?
Needing glasses will increase the cost of insurance too.
2/ Cut the cost of sleepless nights – estimated at $3,500 – $5,200 per day in additional healthcare costs – The Cost of Sleep Lost: Implications for Health, Performance, and the Bottom Line. Bright light in the morning will boost your quality and quantity of sleep. It can even help your teen to get to bed on time too – The human circadian system adapts to prior photic history.
3/ Make the most of your investment in clubs and extra-curricular activities. The average American parent spends $731 per child on out of school learning – Parents With Young Children Spend Average of $731 Annually on Kids’ Extracurriculars, and Majority Believe It’ll Lead to Income or Career. In the UK that adds up to £28,000 per child before they leave home – British parents will fork out £28,000 on extracurricular activities before their kids leave home. Just one hour outside every day can boost the parts of the brain involved in planning and memory, so they’ll remember a bit more of all that tuition – Spending time outdoors has positive effect on our brains.
Eye on the prize
Elite athletes can see better than novices.
But not necessarily because their eyesight is better- although on average it is as this great blog explains – How Important is Sports Vision to Athletic Performance?
It’s because they use their eyes differently, including something called the ‘quiet eye’ period where they look at the basket or the goal for a split-second longer than unskilled before making a move.
This ‘quiet eye’ moment is critical to success in pretty much every sport that demands directed action, including basketball. This study trained athletes to increase the duration of that intentional pause and found they scored more baskets, even while being marked by an aggressive defence on the court. It concludes – ‘Athletes who develop a long duration QE in practice may have developed a neural network that is more easily adapted to handle high pressure conditions’ – The Role of Quiet Eye Timing and Location in the Basketball Three-Point Shot: A New Research Paradigm
So next time you feel under pressure to make a move, take a split-second moment to focus your gaze on the goal. You may not always win, but you will have a better chance of making your mark.