Not too long ago, Ladders unpacked the genetic mechanisms that influence quality sleep. With the help of Clinical psychologist, Michael Breus, I learned that all of my crepuscular tendencies are informed by my specific chronotype; which is the behavioral manifestation of my circadian clock. Breus continues, “These preferences are expressions of your body’s powerful biological rhythms, which regulate an incredible range of activity and behavior. These preferences are generally grouped into three categories, which are known as chronotypes. They are the early birds, who prefer mornings, the hummingbirds, who have an in-between preference, and the night owls, who prefer evenings.”
In recent years, the observance of sleep science has gone a long way to squash stigmas associated with previously unestablished sleep types. Night owls, for instance, have been allied with several unfortunate associations, simply because 9 am to 5 pm is the canonized range of productivity. If I had to ascribe 200 qualities to the late-night owl, Vincent Van Gogh, I’m certain “idle” would never earn my consideration. More than broadening the psychology of sleep, an in-depth understanding of our chronotypes allows us to tailor our time more efficiently.
A new study, that appeared in the Journal Sleep, takes Dr. Brues’s research one step further. The analysis identified an advanced chronotype, one that affects roughly one in 300 people. Because their melatonin gets released earlier than the rest of the population, these extreme early birds spring into action early in the dawn between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. and are biologically compelled to sleep between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. According to the authors of the study, the condition is exacerbated by attempts to counteract its effects, which is why they recommend people with this genetic disposition make an effort to land a job that permits the complications of their unique sleep cycle.
The study’s co-author Dr. Louis Ptacek, professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine explained in a statement that extreme early birds performed better at tasks in the daytime and expressed difficulty staying awake for social commitments in the evening. The researchers diagnosed the “advanced sleep phase” to participants that only slept once a day, arose before 5:30 am, and felt drowsy again before 8:30 pm.
The authors hope the awareness ushered by the new paper, will deter people with the condition from engaging in demanding activities like driving outside of the hours of their intended cycle, in addition to realigning their social obligations and careers in a way that is congruent with their circadian clocks.
The study concludes, “Among patients presenting to a sleep clinic, conservatively one out of every 300 patients will have ASP, one out of every 475 will have FASP, and one out of every 2,500 will have ASWPD. This supports obtaining a routine circadian history and, for those with extreme chronotypes, obtaining a family history of circadian preference. This can optimize treatment for evening sleepiness and early morning awakening and lead to additional circadian gene discovery. We hope these findings will lead to improved treatment options for a wide range of sleep and medical disorders in the future.”