We have all heard the terms “early bird” and “night owl.” Well, these labels have a base in science. These predispositions are a consequence of a natural factor known as a circadian rhythm. Found in most living things, all humans have a unique circadian rhythm. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a cycle.
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
Image Credit: Chronobiology
Circadian rhythms are created by natural processes in the body. Circadian rhythms are susceptible to influence by external stimuli such as the light and darkness in our environment. These rhythms play a key role in many important bodily functions. Going back to whether a person is an early bird, circadian rhythms can affect our sleep wake cycles. By affecting our sleep wake cycles, individuals experience different periods of drowsiness and productivity throughout the day. Those times can differ enough for individuals to be naturally a night owl or a morning person. It is important to support healthy circadian rhythms. Maintaining them is key to support healthy sleep cycles, hormonal releases, and other bodily functions. Abnormal cycles are linked with common conditions such as obesity, depression and seasonal effectiveness disorder.
Changing with Age
AARP notes that research indicates that age plays a large part on whether someone considers themselves a morning person or not. About sixty-three percent of those over age 60 consider themselves morning people. Which in comparison, is twice as much as the number of individuals under 30, who only about 24 percent of the time claim to be early risers. This tendency can be partially contributed to age according to Katherine Sharkey, M.D. associate professor of medicine at Brown University. Individuals are more likely to identify as night owls when they are younger but peak in their teens and twenties.
Which are you? Take this little quiz by AARP for some hints on whether you have early bird tendencies or night owl?
a) persistent and a perfectionist or
b) impulsive and a procrastinator?
Do you typically start the day with …
a) a healthy breakfast or
b) a cup of coffee, gulped down on your way out the door?
While you’re sleeping, do you …
a) rarely snore or
b) snore a lot?
Are you …
a) usually relaxed or
b) often stressed?
Do you drink more …
a) tea or
If most of your answers are A’s, chances are that you are a morning person. If the B’s describe you more, it is a good chance you tend to stay up late.
Changing Space, Changing Rhythm
Image Credit: Chronobiology
As stated by the US Green Building Council, light serves as a primary synchronizer for our circadian rhythms. Since living and working has meant spending more times indoors, exposure to proper light and darkness has become a strained pattern. Disruptions in our natural rhythm have led to negative health outcomes. Thus, it becomes clear that environments should be designed to have exposure rich with circadian light resources. This premise demands design strategies to match. Buildings have responded by featuring larger window areas, skylights and shading treatments that allow for exposure. When natural light is not sufficient, designers have found ways to supplement. Artificial lighting systems have been coupled with color shifting components, in order to supplement. The future also holds promise as well. Technology promises advancements with artificial lighting, unique glazing treatments and indoor and outdoor connections that will encourage and facilitate regulating and supporting healthy circadian rhythms.