Mutants Among Us

By | April 7, 2005

GeekPress reports that early risers are mutants.

Actually, the early riser angle is Paul’s spin on the story, but what we’re dealing with, here, is somewhat different:

[Susan]Middlebrook suffers from what is known as familial advanced sleep phase syndrome, or FASPS. Her body’s clock is out of sync with the sleep-wake rhythm most of the world lives by. She goes to bed each night between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. and wakes in the wee hours of the morning.

About three-tenths of a percent of the world’s population lives like this, including two of Middlebrook’s sisters, her daughter, and her mother. “Their whole clock is shifted,” said Ying-Hui Fu, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco

Three out of a thousand people isn’t many. But that number may be deceptively low. Maybe most of the people with this mutation have found a way to take advantage of it — working second shift or graveyard — and thus don’t realize that they have a “problem” at all. There would definitely have been an evolutionary advantage for early human populations to have some members who naturally stay awake while others sleep. You need guards posted against predators or enemey tribes, anyway. How much better if those selected for that duty are not inclined to doze off when nobody’s looking?

So are these mutants the vestige of a more primitive time, or the vanguard of a coming era in which the clock matters less and less? Surely there are more people who “stay up all night” today than at any previous point in human history. There is a whole world of employment and business opportunities for those who operate on a different clock.

Still, for those who persist in seeing this mutation as some kind of condition needing to be treated…what do you suppose would happen if Susan Middlebrook were to move 4-5 time zones to the east? She could avoid jetlag altogether, and she would find herself in a place completely in sync with her pattern. Problem solved.

But how long would it last?

  • Stephen Gordon

    So THAAAT’S what was wrong with my Grandfather. He’d go to sleep about 6:00 pm and wake up about 3:00a.m.

    I always thought it was just a old timer’s way of doing things. He said it was just good clean living – early to bed, early to rise and all that.

    His schedule was probably just the product of his environment. He lived all his life among farmers. He ran a country store/post office for most of his adult life that catered to farmers. I think the store opened about 4:00 am.