Not enough hours in the day

I just had a random thought about sleep and consciousness, inspired by a faculty talk I attended recently…
My thought runs something like this: In many (most) multicellular animals of any sort of complexity, there are circadian rhythms within the body, biolchemical pathways that dictate a day/night cycle of activity. The basic mechanisms for these pathways are fairly well understood in several model systems. Basically, they’re a slow series of enzyme-catalyzed reactions that take a set amount of time, feeding back on each other to regulate the process– but most interestingly, they contain a point where outside stimulus can alter the sequence of reactions, effectively “resetting” the clock.

So that the clock can always be reset back to it’s “ideal” value, the circadian rhythms are always long– that is, the cycle is longer than 24 hours without outside stimulus to regulate it. For example, humans are typcially born with a 24.5 to 25.2 hour circadian rhythm (and those with rhythms much outside that range tend to have severe sleep disorders). But every day, exposure to factors like increased light levels sends stimulus to “reset” the clock and keep us on a 24 hour day.

Okay, so here’s where the crazy thought comes in. Consciousness (at least our rational thought kind of consciousness) is a much later development than the circadian rhythm.What if part of the reason humans are always wishing for more time, more “hours in the day”, and generally, have many stresses related to feeling overwhelmed is directly because our consciousness (frontal lobe, whatever) is on a normal (that is, long) circadian rhythm, and isn’t able to be corrected? I mean, it wouldn’t be the only cause, of course… but it would be interested to see the attitudes of children raised in 25-hour days.. Alas, an experiment that’s ethically and physically impossible to conduct right now.

Probably way off base, but an amusing thought nevertheless. I like to dream of a better understanding of the bridges between psychology and biology.

6 Responses to “Not enough hours in the day”

Ask Koko the Gorilla.
You know, I wonder if I could find out about that (I have contact with one of her trainers).

Owen - September 28th, 2004 at 7:17 am

I don’t know… If the “circadian rhythms are always long” for all animals, and your theory’s correct, why haven’t I ever seen other animals stressing out about what they didn’t have time to accomplish for that day? I’ve never seen a dog go running around wishing it had more time in the day to chase those squirrels… It’s a nice theory though 🙂 I think people would just always be wanting more time, even on a 25-hour schedule — it’s just the human condition.

Teisha - September 27th, 2004 at 10:06 pm

I think you may be right– I may have made the cardinal sin of assuming an invisible wall between man and beast. But, like most things in nature, it could be a steep gradient. So, to test– do Monkeys get anxious about getting everything they want done in one day? They have hyper-developed frontal lobes, too.

Or perhaps our anxiety is more determined by memetic (e.g. societal) forces, and not so much by biology. Circadian rhythms are still cool, though.

Paradoxdruid - September 28th, 2004 at 12:22 am

I don’t think it’s monkeys so much as Great Apes and dolphins. And while it’s an interesting idea, I think that us wishing for more hours in the day has more to do with economic theory than circadian rhythms.

I think of it more in terms of always having to make choices. In my economics class we talked a lot about consumers having infinite demands, but finite resources to spend. Time is a resource. So, for example, I want to plan my wedding, play The Sims 2, knit, read The Sandman Series, read Ishmael, and post on this website. I only have so many hours after work, so I have to prioritize and spend my time on the things I most want. If I had 30 hours each day and would live for the same number of days (in other words, I’d have a longer life), I still couldn’t make time for everything that I wanted to do. Even with infinite time, there would always be a new language to learn, a new game to play, or whatever. Maybe I’m a sick, capitalistic freak, but that’s how I think of it. 🙂

Also, Druid, you should read a book I’m reading called “Ishmael.” It deals a lot with how people perceive themselves as different from “other animals” and what that does to our civilization. I’ll tell you more if you want . . . 🙂

ShortSpeedFreak - September 29th, 2004 at 8:43 pm

Yeah, you’re right, Megan 🙂 If I had more time, I’d just develop more hobbies so I’d want more time to do them.

And what are you doing reading a Norlin bookclub book? I know that can’t just be a coincidence 🙂

Teisha - September 29th, 2004 at 10:41 pm

Well, it could be a coincidence. Or it could mean that I’m the only UA alum to still attend book club meetings. I’m a big dork, I know. But I just love book club so much!

ShortSpeedFreak - September 30th, 2004 at 9:38 pm

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