Sunday, April 03, 2005

Saving Daylight--Resetting the Genetic Clock

Today, the sun inexplicably rose an hour later...but it wasn't winter, it was due to springtime and resetting our clocks. Many people resent rising an hour earlier but as an adult, I am indifferent to this.

This wasn't always so.

In the mid sixties, when I started high school, the only one within a 60 mile radius was 60 miles away. Our ranch was pretty isolated. On top of this, we had full double sessions in school because of the baby boom and new arrivals in our city. This meant school began at the ungodly hour of 6:20 am. Since I was the first picked up and the last dropped off on the bus route, I had to rise at 4:00 am to go to school. This really didn't bother me much, all my life, I rose at the crack of dawn and enjoy watching the sun rise over Seven Falls as the full moon, once a month, sets over Bavaquivari. The hush of night which is broken only by the drunken antics of the coyotes flees the sun and a chorus of birds starting with the Inca dove's plaintive sighs, greets the desert day.

But when Arizona, along with the nation, began mandatory Daylight Savings Time, I was hard pressed to rise at 3:00 am. Try as I might, after one week, I was a wreck. The alarm would ring and I would sleep right through it, missing my bus. My pets, the lizards and the cat and the horses and the chickens, would be all asleep instead of waking with me, since sunrise is when I fed them. We were all miserable. Worse. It was pitch dark when I would try to wander through the desert to the highway where my bus stopped. And wandering about the Tucson desert in the dark before sunrise when predators are lurking about since most of them hunt at night...was very dangerous. The scream of the mountain lions in heat and the bobcat's growl isn't reassuring to a child waiting in the pitch dark on an empty highway.

The fourth morning of this nonsense, I took some matches with me and lit a small fire and crouched next to it to warm my hands and fend off predators. I would have carried a gun except this wasn't allowed. This fire ritual was followed each morning for two weeks when a car came down off of Mount Lemmon, the only traffic I saw that week, and the driver stopped. I ran and hid. He yelled, "I am a reporter from the Arizona Star. What are you doing out here in the dark?" I laughed and told him I was waiting for my bus.

He was incredulous. "This is insane!" So he waited for my bus and interviewed the bus driver, who was a rancher and who was very angry about rising before the cows to pick me up. We made the news. I began to take a sleeping bag to school and in protest, would unroll it in my first period class and go to sleep. This was my physics class! Well, the principal got fed up, he didn't like getting up at a mere 6:00am, so he joined me in going to the Arizona Legislative Special Session to end this farce. We won and this was my first legislative win!

Now I read this at the BBC: Genetic Key Makes Early Birds

Researchers have identified the cause of a sleep disorder which causes people to nod off early and wake fully alert before dawn.

A mutant gene,CKIdelta, is to blame for the condition, familial advanced sleep phase syndrome (FASPS).

The findings may lead to new treatments for FASPS, and disturbed sleep patterns caused by jet lag or night shift work.

The University of California, San Francisco and Howard Hughes Medical Institute study features in Nature.

I always wondered about this. No one in my family finds it hard to rise at dawn. My son never had trouble rising at dawn, either, but my daughter found this nearly impossible. It must be a mutant gene because daddy couldn't rise at dawn, like his daughter.

It is odd. Just before dawn, I get very restless in bed. Lots of dreaming and then suddenly, the eyes fly open and I really can't lay there, inert, I have a big compulsion to rise. Luckily for me, I must get up to light the fires in the woodstoves, when my kids were living on the mountain, I would bake bread for breakfast before they rose, I would tend the ox team and the sheep, now gone, alas. And I love this time period. When I visit the Buddhist temple, I am one of the few to join the nuns in predawn prayer. What a joyous sunrise it is, even when it is raining, after chanting an hour in the dark!

So, I am a FASPS. Fast Awake Sleepless Predawn Singer!

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