Science Questions

Why are some people more productive in the morning?

Sun, 6th Jul 2008

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Question

Henry asked:

Why are some people more productive in the morning?

Answer

We put this question to Professor Russell Foster:

We talked about those clock genes [see Russell's interview] of which we think there are 12-14 of them.  Tiny changes in those genes are now being associated with a morning preference – larks as distinct from an evening preference – those people we would describe as owls.  You’re absolutely right.  There are some people, about 10% of the population that light to get up very early, We’re talking about 5 in the morning but then they go to bed very early, sort of 7 o’clock in the evening.

Chris - And we’ve got genes that we can map onto those different behaviours?

Russell - In fact there’s one extraordinary study called familial advance sleep-phase syndrome where it’s been followed through five generations now.  It’s one tiny amino acid, a change in one of those proteins.  One of those 14 proteins that make up the clock.  It’s an extraordinary study.  We’re starting to pick up more and more subtle changes in these genes with morning and evening preference.  I should say that this morning and evening preference does shift with time.  As one grows up from the age of ten through adolescence into the early 20s there is this tendency to want to go to bed later and later and later and get up later and later.  That seems to be a real biological phenomenon.  There’s some very important consequences I think in terms of our education systems that we might want to discuss.

Kat - So maybe having classes later?

Russell - Well, the evidence suggests from the University of Toronto. They tested pupils mid morning or mid afternoon and their scores went up by ten percent in the mid-afternoon.  What was fascinating was that the older teachers’ went down over the same time period.

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Randy Kauten asked the Naked Scientists: Hello NS, Love the podcast and am very pleased to see it on my i-pod every week. I have noticed that some people appear to be more productive in the morning while others work better later in the day. Could you tell me if this is related to our internal body clocks and if there is any way to adjust when your productivity peak occurs? Thanks, Henry What do you think? Randy Kauten , Tue, 6th May 2008

I'm more productive in the early afternoon and later in the evening. I am susceptible to SAD. I think part of it is to do with light absorption and melanin and part is genetic. I don't think it is very easy to change. I must say that I'm not an expert but I've read bits and bobs on this. Make it Lady, Tue, 6th May 2008

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