What if there was a system that could control your sleep, digestion, metabolism, mood, and more–and a simple way to keep it running smoothly? As it turns out, there is, and it’s called the circadian rhythm.
“You want to really maximize the utility of your circadian rhythm because its whole function is to free you from worrying about your body,” researcher Sofia Axelrod, Ph.D., tells mbg. As Axelrod explains, every single aspect of the body–from your temperature and alertness to digestion and bowel movements–is circadian, meaning it runs on its own clock. One of the most obvious examples of this is our sleep; every 24 hours or so, our bodies know it’s time to rest up.
Axelrod’s lab at Rockefeller University studies the inner workings of our sleep clocks and her mentor’s lab won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery that they’re actually genetic, meaning that the tendency to be more of a night owl or early bird is partially written into our genes.
“Your propensity to work at night or in the morning is not necessarily only determined by life circumstance,” she explains, “but it can be it can be genetically encoded, and that is called the chronotype.”
Those who have a chronotype that’s longer than 24 hours naturally want to stay up later and sleep in later, while those with shorter chronotypes are happy waking up early and going to bed early. Those who have a standard chronotype, closer to 24 hours in length, fall somewhere in the middle.
The genetic component of chronotypes is important because it proves that in order to get a good night’s rest, we need to work with our body’s natural sleep preferences, not against them. So, in the spirit of personalized medicine, here are Axelrod’s tips for finding a sleep routine that’s tailor-made for your DNA.