Blue Flower

Lark or an Owl? Circadian Rhythms

Sleep patterns, working around the clock, different types of light, and our personality type all impact on our sleeping habits; and Well-being.

barn owl 250

The time of day when a person functions at their best, or their 'Chronotype,' has been a subject researchers have been interested in for some time, and is particularly relevant for those who work 24/7.  Broadly split into 'Larks' and 'Owls', knowing your own type can assist you to lead a healthier lifestyle. It seems our 'Circadian Rhythm' is born out of our instinct to feed, 'early bird catches the worm' and all that. The rhythm is set by our reaction to day and night (light), our 'body clock', with some of us

reacting [to daylight] slowly (Owls); and some more quickly (Larks)!

It appears Owls work better, harder and more creatively later in the day, Larks are better in the morning. If you are somewhere in the middle you may be the perfect shift worker! However, it seems our type may alter with age. Broadly speaking, the very young and elderly take on a morning preference. Teenagers are usually the opposite, an explanation for you mums and dads!

oh what a beautiful morning    eastern meadow lark by jamie macarthur-d4v63xw

Over-riding your clock, for example to go to work at unsociable hours, can make us feel unwell, and may result in unhealthy outcomes such as sleep deprivation. This in turn can expose us to more serious health issues if continued over long periods (years). Problems such as cardio vascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers have been recorded.  

To combat sleep deprivation astronauts have used 'blue light' to wake and 'red light' to sleep. Seemingly these types of light encourage the brain to react accordingly, hence looking at TV, computers or tablets (blue light) is not particularly helpful if you're trying to nod off. Don't despair, scientists are developing these technologies for us here on earth too!

The news for shift workers, getting to some relevance here (eventually!), is that there is ongoing research in to what shift patterns fit best with various Chronotypes; including optimum number of nights, recovery days and so on. For now it appears getting enough hours sleep is the key, whichever timespan within the 24hr clock this happens for you. Goodnight, or good morning?

If you would like to see what your preference may be, try the test on the BBC website...

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27161671

If you want to know further, this Radio 4 podcast on 'Chronotypes' explores the subject in greater detail:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03lrzjp

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