We all know we’re likely to feel a bit groggy and tired after flying halfway around the world or working a night shift, but research into the extent to which our body clock, or circadian rhythm, affects our health and happiness has just been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine . The basics? Our internal ticker has “vast implications for our health and wellbeing” according to the prize committee, with the trio of US scientist winners revealing that our body clocks can have a more profound impact on our metabolism, mood, body temperature, blood pressure and hormonal balance than previously thought.
Studying fruit flies, Jeffery Hall, Michael Young and Michael Rosbash discovered a gene that determined the creatures’ daily rhythms, called the “period” gene. This gene contains a code to make a particular protein (PER) that fluctuates over a 24 hour cycle, rising at nighttime and falling throughout the day. The stability of this protein can be affected by two other genes discovered by Michael Young, poetically named “timeless” and “doubletime”.
When PER levels are unstable, our body clock can run either too fast or too slowly, which goes some way to explaining why some of us leap out of bed in the morning while others press the snooze button 29 times. The genetic synchronisation of our internal body clocks and external environment could also be key to further understanding the development of disease, as not adhering to our natural circadian rhythms has been shown to put stress on the body and mind, as everyone from new parents to doctors to jetsetters will testify.
As The Nobel committee recognised, Hall, Young and Rosbash’s findings are significant not just for flies, but for all organisms on the planet (just as well really), and while their breakthrough represents just the beginning of our understanding of the genetic “feedback loop” in connection with day and night, the possibilities for enhancing our wellbeing, quality of life and overall health could be boundless.
Respecting a natural urge for a lie-in rather than overriding it with coffee, or instilling some bedtime box set discipline, could well improve more than just our energy levels, plus you’ve got a bonafide Nobel prize worthy excuse for vetoing that 8am work meeting from now on. Bravo.