Sleep may be a habit as old as humanity itself, but it was only in the last several decades that we really began to understand exactly why we sleep when we sleep.
The answer, it turns out, lies in a complex system of physiological timekeepers distributed throughout the body. These so-called “body clocks” are managed by a tiny control center located inside the brain’s hypothalamus, and regulate not only our sleep schedules but also our temperature, hunger, and hormone levels throughout the day. One of the big discoveries has been that these clocks are set, in part, by our genetics—meaning that being an early bird or a night owl is not so much a choice as it is something you’re born with.
But there is a lot we can nurture to work with nature. From tinkering with our bedtimes, to carefully timing our meal schedules, social interactions, screentime, and caffeine or melatonin, observing the feedback and knowledge a tool like the Oura Ring provides can help each of us work with our internal body clocks — unlocking our daily potential.
The foundations for the discovery of these “genetically set body clocks” were laid in 1971, when two researchers at the California Institute of Technology identified a set of genes in fruit flies that determined their circadian rhythms. Mutations in these genes, they discovered, were responsible for abnormalities in fruit flies’ daily behaviors. At a time when many still questioned whether genetics could affect behavior, this revelation had massive implications. Eventually biologists applied similar concepts to discover human clock genes, building a robust field of circadian biology that eventually helped three scientists win the 2017 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Yet even to say that these genes plant each of us into one of two categories—the early bird or the night owl—is overly reductive. In fact, only about seventy percent of the population falls into those two categories. In 2019, Russian chronobiologist Arcady Putilov identified six broad chronotypes, each of whom experience different 24-hour sleep-wake cycles. Trying to fight where we fit on that spectrum can put us at risk for circadian misalignment—a phenomenon that amounts to a kind of daily jet lag and can have significant long-term health risks.
Fortunately, wearable health technology like the Oura Ring gives us the power to work closely with our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms. Through monitoring activity, recovery, and sleep stage data, the Oura Ring recommends tangible actions we can take to whip our schedules into shape and stay in tune with what’s happening on the inside.