Are You an 'Advanced Sleeper'?

©. thanmano

One in 300 people are extreme early birds, and it may be genetic.

A constant on every list of the habits of the world’s most successful people is the act of waking up at some ungodly hour in the morning. Take Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, who wakes up at 3:45 a.m. every morning. No wonder people like that are successful – what kind of superhuman ambition does it take to get out of bed a few hours past midnight?

But what if there is more to it than meets the eye. Like, what if there were a quirk of the body clock that coaxes some people to magically waken, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, while the rest of us are deep in slumber?

Researchers from UC San Francisco looking at sleep cycles stumbled upon just this fact. While "advanced sleep phase" – roughly falling asleep around 8 p.m. and waking up around 4 a.m. – was known before, it was thought to be very rare. Now the scientists say that at least one in 300 adults may fall into this category – that of “advanced sleepers" – making it much more common than previously believed.

"While most people struggle with getting out of bed at 4 or 5 a.m., people with advanced sleep phase wake up naturally at this time, rested and ready to take on the day," said the study's senior author, Louis Ptacek, MD, professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine. "These extreme early birds tend to function well in the daytime but may have trouble staying awake for social commitments in the evening."

For these people, the early-early birds, the body's internal clock (also known as the circadian rhythm) runs on a schedule much earlier than most others', with a premature release of the sleep hormone melatonin and shift in body temperature, explain the researchers.

They found that "advanced sleepers" wake up more easily than the rest of us, and are fine with five to 10 minutes of extra sleep on weekends.

Given that our society operates on a pretty early schedule – many work days start at 8 a.m., the first bell at many schools is even earlier – life can be hard for the night owls.

"Generally, we find that it's the people with delayed sleep phase – those night owls that can't sleep until as late as 7 a.m. – who are more likely to visit a sleep clinic. They have trouble getting up for work and frequently deal with chronic sleep deprivation," said Ptacek.

These are the traits of advanced sleepers:

  • The ability to fall asleep before 8:30 p.m. and wake before 5:30 a.m. regardless of obligations.
  • No use of stimulants or sedatives; and no bright lights to aid early rising.
  • Sleeping only once per day; as in, no naps.
  • Having established this pattern by the age of 30.

The researchers also found that many of the advanced sleepers in their study had at least one first-degree relative with the same schedule, “indicating so-called familial advanced sleep phase.”

"We hope the results of this study will not only raise awareness of advanced sleep phase and familial advanced sleep phase," said Ptacek, "but also help identify the circadian clock genes and any medical conditions that they may influence."

I think what they meant to say was that they hope the results of this study make the rest of us not feel like losers for not bouncing out of bed at 3:45 in the morning.

The research was published in the journal, Sleep.