- According to a recent study in the journal Sleep, 1 in 300 people wake up and go to sleep extremely early—this is called advanced sleep phase syndrome.
- Having advanced sleep phase syndrome is due to both genetics and environmental factors.
- It’s best to follow your body clock, and not force yourself to wake up and go to sleep at times that aren’t natural for you.
We all know those people who wake up before the sun, get a run in, and still have enough energy to get through their day without hitting that oh-so-dreaded afternoon slump. In fact, getting up super early has been thrown around as a marker of productivity, with business leaders, entrepreneurs, and other leaders boasting about their predawn wakeup calls.
But in many cases, it might just be the marker of a different kind of body clock: Ask them to go for drinks later that night, and they have to pass—that’s when they’re getting ready for bed.
This type of wake-sleep cycle—waking up naturally around 4 a.m. and hitting the hay by 8 p.m.—is officially referred to as advanced sleep phase syndrome, and there is a biological backing to it, as researchers discovered in recent study published in the journal Sleep.
In the study, researchers crunched the data on the sleep schedules of 2,422 patients at a sleep disorder clinic over nine years, and found that about 1 in 300 people operate on this advanced sleep phase syndrome.
A sleep phase is the period of your 24-hour day when you’re biologically programmed to sleep, Louis Ptacek, M.D., study coauthor and professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, told Runner’s World.
Usually, the majority of people wake up around 7 a.m. and go to sleep around 11 p.m., he explained. But some people are at one extreme or the other and have either an advanced sleep phase or a delayed sleep phase (night owls who can’t fall asleep before 2 or 3 a.m.).
This can, for the most part, be explained by genetics, Ptacek said. But environmental factors also play a role.
“We have genes from our parents, but there’s always an interaction between genetics and our environment,” he said. “We often don’t listen to our biological clocks due to work or social events, but there is probably a single gene or genetic variant that causes [these extremes in sleep schedules].”
As for environmental factors, your work life and social life may play a large role in when you have to wake up and go to sleep, according to Ptacek. Say, for instance, if your job starts at 7 a.m., and you need to wake up at 5:00 to get ready for it, your body clock may eventually adjust to an earlier wake time.
Even though advanced sleep phase syndrome is more common than Ptacek and his colleagues originally thought, this type of extreme sleep schedule is still pretty rare, so chances are you’re probably not 1 out of these 300 people whose body is best served by waking up at 4 a.m. In this case, it’s best not to force yourself to be.
“Living in harmony with your natural body clock is probably the healthiest situation, since chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk for certain types of cancers, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders,” Ptacek said. “With that said, we live in a society that has certain set things like school and work start times, so listening to [your natural body clock] is not always possible.”
Your best bet, then, is to follow your natural body clock as best as you can given your day-to-day responsibilities. This includes running, too. While there are some days where you might have to squeeze in a 5 a.m. track workout or else you won’t be able to get it done that day, don’t fret if there are other days where you simply just can’t get out of bed before the sun comes up—some people just aren’t morning people, and that’s okay. Instead, see if you can tweak your schedule to do your workout in the middle or end of the day.
The more research that is done, according to Ptacek, the better researchers will be able to help improve quality of sleep for those whose lifestyles may not be conducive to their natural sleep schedule.