We Homo Sapiens are the only inhabitants of Planet Earth who are obsessed with Exact Time. The rest of Earth’s creatures are only concerned with the Three “S” Time Telling System: the Stomach, the Sun, and the Seasons.
1) Stomach: Am I Hungry? Time to Eat!
2) Sun: Rising or Setting? Time to Sleep – or Get Up!
a) Summer? Time to Fatten up!
b) Fall? Time to Gather Food – or Head South!
c) Winter? Time to Slow Down – or Take a Nap!
d) Spring? Time to Head North – or Wake up!
We’re getting closer to that time of year where it’s getting dark “earlier.” Even if you didn’t notice that, there are “Back to School” sales everywhere to remind you. But schools in the Los Angeles area are starting earlier every year – classes for most kids begin in August now. I wonder what that will do to the children’s biological rhythms in years to come?
There are two whole fields of study about this: Chronobiology, which is a study of our natural “internal clock,” and Medical Chronobiology, which basically studies the fallout from messing with our natural rhythms: “biological rhythm investigations of rhythm-dependencies in the kinetics and dynamics of medications-chronopharmacology- and chronotherapeutics-optimization of drug effects and safety by timing to rhythm determinants…..genetic and molecular mechanisms of biological timekeeping, melatonin and pineal gland rhythms, as well as on the chronobiology and chronotherapy of cardiovascular, pulmonary, ulcer and other diseases.”
From Atlantic Monthly, February 2014:
“The roots of the field of chronobiology are actually leaves. The concept was born in France in 1729, when astronomer Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan noticed that the leaves of his heliotrope plant closed and opened at the same time every day. So he enclosed the plant in a dark space, and found that the leaves continued their punctual dance, sun or no sun.
In this way, humans are not unlike plants, as German biologist Jürgen Aschoff discovered in the 1950’s. He built an underground bunker, where human subjects would stay, cut off from light, sound, and the Earth’s vibrations, so they would have no way to tell what time of day it was. (He went in the bunker himself, first, before experimenting on others.) Most people still kept pretty close to a 24-hour day, though some went for 48 hours, and slept for 16. This confirmed Aschoff’s earlier research (which he also did on himself) that found that that humans lose body heat in regular, 24-hour patterns. Along with U.S. biologist Colin Pittendrigh, Aschoff is considered a co-founder of the field of chronobiology.”
“…..in 1997, the Minneapolis Public School District changed its start time from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., and a four-year longitudinal study found that students were notably less tardy, less depressed, and less sleepy during class with the later start time. And they really were getting more sleep. The data showed the students still went to bed at around the same time as they had before—they weren’t using the later start time as an excuse to stay up late.”
The Atlantic Monthly article is mostly about Bad Kissingen, a “spa” town in Germany that wanted to be more competitive in the lucrative “medical tourism” market. So Michael Wieden, the official business developer of Bad Kissingen, consulted his friend, Dr. Thomas Kantermann, of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who is a Chronobiologist.
Since July 2013, the mayor and city council have pledged to promote chronobiology research: “…..in an effort to stand out from the pack and improve the lives of its citizens and visitors, Bad Kissingen has committed itself to finding ways to implement chronobiology into the fabric of the town’s society. “
According to a study in 2003, natural-born Early Risers are actually in the minority!
So have we set ourselves up for problems by creating a society based on the biological clocks of a minority of its members?
It will be interesting to see if any of these scientific findings will have an impact on our 21st Century rush to distance ourselves from our biological clocks. As a Night Owl, I certainly hope so!