How the last Nobel Prize in Physiology actually promotes nap in the workplace

Thank you Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash & Michael W. Young

A well deserved afternoon nap @Gratisography

Every year in October, Nobel Prizes are awarded to those who have brought the most benefit to humanity. Last year, they were 3 to be rewarded for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm, ie the human biological clock. Discover the works of Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young.

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.”

We know that every living creature has a biological clock; that is why the flowers continue to open when the sun rises, even if they are locked up in a dark room (Mimosa experiment conducted by the French astronaut Jean Jacques d’Ortous of Mairan in 1729) or that the Hibernating animal organism naturally warms up at the end of winter. What the scientific community could not determine is how these circadian cycles function at the molecular level.

What is a circadian cycle ?

A key feature of life on Earth is its ability to adapt to its environment. If the conditions of life are different everywhere, the day and the night are the value common to all living beings. To adapt to these changes in light and temperature, terrestrial organisms have developed an internal biological clock that anticipates day / night cycles and helps to optimize behaviors. These circadian cycles make it possible, among other things, to regulate sleep and food needs, and to adjust body temperature.

Our biological rhythm is like a clock shop that synchronizes with the rhythm of a main clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. Our cycles are determined by information returned by the retina but also by other environmental indices: diet, physical activity and temperature. Circadian rhythms will then determine glucose production, fat storage and hormone release.

The biological clock: a scientific journey

This biological clock does not develop during the life of our organism, it is transmitted from generation to generation through our DNA. It was in 1960 that this concept of clock genes was brought to light by a community of scientists. In 1971, the American researcher Seymour Benzer published his work on Drosophila flies, demonstrating that genetic mutations could disrupt the biological clock of said insects. They named the gene “Periode”.

In 1984, our three nobelis researchers succeeded in identifying this gene. They also discovered a model that explains how the protein encoded by this gene is responsible for circadian cycles. By accumulating, the protein inhibits gene activity and creates a feedback loop.

What about naps ?

Studies have shown that the gap between our lifestyle and the pace dictated by our biological clock can be the cause of many diseases (cancer, neuro-degenerative diseases …). Thanks to the results of Hall, Rosbash and Young, the research will be able to develop a pharmaceutical approach to influence or even modify our circadian cycles and improve our health.

The biological clock of the human being has dictated us a bi-phasic sleep for thousands of years now. The sleep that is naturally indicated by our DNA consists of a long phase (the night) and a short phase (the nap), which occurs 6 hours after waking up the long phase. By neglecting the short phase, we do not respect our circadian cycles and we deteriorate our health.

Not only napping is known for decreasing stress and increasing creativity, optimism and general efficiency, but it also helps people to stay in good health by respecting their true rythm. Having a good sleep quality also goes through napping and soon, companies will have to take it into account. 

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