Late Sleepers Are Better Suited to Be Mars Astronauts

Monday, 25 January 2016 - 2:39PM
Mars
Monday, 25 January 2016 - 2:39PM
Late Sleepers Are Better Suited to Be Mars Astronauts
If you're constantly pressing the "snooze" button or are reluctant to get out of bed before noon, it turns out there might be an evolutionary reason for it, at least if you're ever planning to live on Mars. According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, early risers may not be able to adjust as well to Mars' foreign rotation speed, making them significantly less suited to being Mars astronauts.

Every person (and animal) has an internal biological clock that tells us how long a day is, and therefore when we should go to sleep. Multiple studies have shown that early risers' clocks move a little bit faster than normal, while night owls' clocks run a little bit slower. This new study found that "resonance of the circadian system plays an important role in individual fitness," or that it is most desirable from an evolutionary/survival standpoint to have a clock that is most aligned with the actual day length of the planet, whether on Earth or Mars.

For the study, the researchers studied a group of mice, some of which had 24-hour biological clocks and some of which had 20-hour biological clocks. They found that the mice whose clocks did not align with Earth's day length suffered significant physical stress from the exhaustion, with the responsible allele decreasing at a "remarkable" rate: 9.5% with each generation, to be exact. After a few generations, the phenotype had all but died out in the observed population. 

Opening quote
"A correctly ticking body clock is essential for normal survival in the wild, and this has to be in phase with the rotation speed of the earth," study co-author Andrew Loudon, from the University of Manchester, told The Telegraph. "Animals with clocks that do not run in synchrony with earth are selected against. Thus, the body clock has evolved as an essential survival component for life on earth."
Closing quote

Since Mars' day is 37 minutes longer, the scientists concluded that it is very likely that early risers would have a much more difficult time adjusting to the physical conditions on Mars, possibly to the point that they would be disqualified in the application process.

Opening quote
"The rotation speed of Mars may be within the limits of some people's internal clock, but people with short running clocks, such as extreme morning types, are likely to face serious intractable long-term problems, and would perhaps be excluded from any plans NASA has to send humans to Mars," said Loudon.

"The prospect of settling on Mars is a somewhat distant prospect. But if we ever do get to the Red Planet, I suspect we will be faced with body clock problems; those people with abnormally slow body clocks would be best suited to living there."
Closing quote
Science
Space
Mars

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