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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Brain function of night owls and larks differ, study suggests

From The BBC

15 February 2019

The brain function of very late risers and "morning larks" during the hours of the working day is different, according to a study. Researchers scanned the brains of night owls with a bedtime of 02:30 and a wake time of 10:15, along with early risers. The tests - performed between 08:00 and 20:00 - found night owls had less connectivity in brain regions linked to maintaining consciousness. They also had poorer attention, slower reactions and increased sleepiness. Researchers said it suggested that night owls were disadvantaged by the "constraints" of the typical working day. They called for more research to understand the health implications of night owls performing on a work or school schedule to which they are not naturally suited.

Scientists took 38 people who were either night owls or morning larks (people who went to bed just before 23:00 and woke at 06:30) and investigated their brain function at rest using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The volunteers then carried out a series of tasks at various times, from 08:00 to 20:00, and were asked to report on their levels of sleepiness. Morning larks were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time in the early morning tests. They were also found to perform significantly better at this time than night owls. In contrast, night owls were least sleepy and had their fastest reaction time at 20:00, although they did not do significantly better than the larks at this time. The brain connectivity in the regions that predicted better performance and lower sleepiness was significantly higher in larks at all time points, suggesting connectivity in late risers is impaired throughout the whole working day, researchers said. The lead researcher, Dr Elise Facer-Childs, of the University of Birmingham's Centre for Human Brain Health, said the findings "could be partly driven by the fact that night owls tend to be compromised throughout their lives". Dr Facer-Childs said: "Night owls during school have to get up earlier, then they go into work and they have to get up earlier, so they're constantly having to fight against their preferences and their innate rhythms."

She said there was a "critical need" to better understand how adapting to school and work times to which people are not suited, may be affecting health and productivity. About 40-50% of the population identify as having a preference for later bedtimes and for getting up after 08:20, researchers said. Dr Facer-Childs added: "A typical day might last from 09:00 to 17:00, but for a night owl this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness, and increased daytime sleepiness. If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way towards maximising productivity and minimising health risks." Dr Facer-Childs stressed that the differences in brain connectivity are not a type of damage and are probably reversible. There are also some limitations to the study. The tests did not look at brain function later in the day, and it is possible that other factors not picked up on in the study, like lifestyle choices, may have affected the results. Dr Alex Nesbitt, consultant neurologist at King's College London, who was not involved in the research, said the study added to evidence that a person's brain performance is influenced not only by the time of the day but also their body clock. "It is becoming increasingly clear that these factors are important when 9-to-5 routines are widely imposed on people," he added. The authors of the study called for more research to look at whether other brain regions might be affected by being a night owl or morning lark. The research, which also involved the University of Surrey, is published in the journal Sleep.

[Well, duh! I could have told them this and saved them a ton of time and money. My brain is essentially mush first thing in the morning (which to me is *after* the sun comes up!) and I doubt if a life or death situation would wake me up any faster. It’s not even a case of being a zombie till I have my first coffee (which I don’t drink) it’s simply the fact that although I may be out of bed and (seemingly) doing stuff my physical brain is still tucked up somewhere warm and cosy. By about 8am I’m fine. It’s probably sooner in the summer when it’s warmer and lighter earlier but probably not much before 07:30. Nice to know that my brain is actually different for larks. Thankfully I’m on flexi-time so am allowed to show up to work the best part of 2hrs later than most of my team!]

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Brunel – The Man Who Built the World by Steven Brindle (FP: 2005)

There are few other men who could be said to have built a world than the brilliantly named Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In Brunel’s case it is the literal truth. During his lifetime Brunel was either associated with (through his father) or directly responsible for a significant number of tunnels, bridges, buildings (often railway stations), piers, harbours and even locomotives that were directly responsible for the explosion of British wealth and power in the 19th Century. In an age when so much work was pioneering Brunel was an outlier in almost every field of engineering endeavour with few peers to compare himself against – Thomas Telford and Robert Stephenson being some of the few in his class. Combining the skills of architect, surveyor, civil engineer, mechanical engineer and ship designer and excelling in each he transformed the English countryside and its economic prospects in equal measure. No understanding of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution can be arrived at without understanding Brunel’s many contributions. The word Genius has been much abused and is much devalued these days but it is an appellation that can surely be applied to Brunel many times over. Not without his faults, being a hard task master and unforgiving of mistakes, he nevertheless drove himself harder than he drove his staff or his contractors to complete his designs on time and to Brunel’s exacting specifications. Brunel is arguably Britain’s greatest engineer and his legacy lives on in concrete form across the country.

This excellent little book (a mere 180 pages) was a delight from start to finish. The author is clearly a fan and, like many other people, completely in awe of the breadth of Brunel’s genius. Whilst not shying away from his flaws the author spins a tale of a hardworking, driven man who took to his monumental tasks like a fish to water. His skills astounded his contemporaries and are even more astonishing when it is remember that engineering theoretical understanding was still in its infancy and that building after advanced so fast that mere theory struggled to keep up. One of the things that interested me personally was Brunel’s involvement with the Great Western Rail line between London and Bristol – something I have travelled on many times particularly when I worked in London and had friends in Bristol. I will definitely pay more attention to that route next time I travel it! I was also fascinated with the political arguments about railway track gauge sizes (OK, I’m a Geek….) and the fight between the canal and coach companies and the new train builders. I need to read more about that period of history! Finally I was riveted (pun intended) to Brunel’s design and building of the biggest ocean going ships of the time and how the designs not only changed trans-Atlantic travel forever but also influenced Royal Naval designs. I definitely want to read more about the competition between paddle steam power and screw propeller (tested in a very public tug-of-war between to two types of ship). Much more of this sort of thing to come when I can dig it up. I’m convinced that in another life, in another universe, I might have been a civil engineer. It’s certainly exciting enough. Recommended. 

It's Valentine's Day..... DEMAND a Hug!

Monday, February 11, 2019


I made a (semi) special trip to the Mall on Saturday for a few things. I hadn’t been there for a good few weeks so was interested to see what new books had come out – especially as February is a no on-line book buying month (yes, I know it’s technically cheating!). I managed to pick up three books (two of which were on my Amazon Wish List) and impulse bought some vitamins from the Health Food shop as they had a sale on. Then for the other reason to hit the Mall…. A visit to the Multiplex.

For a while now my local multiplex has been showing classic movies normally on their particular anniversaries. I’ve seen 2001, Bladerunner and, most recently, Die Hard. This time – in about 2 weeks – it’s the original Alien which is an incredible 40 years old! (which makes me feel VERY old I can tell you!). I’m going along with a few of my younger geeky friends who amazed me recently by BOTH admitting that neither of them have seen the whole film beginning to end in a single sitting. They both said that they’d seen the beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. So it’s going to be fun to be part of their education as a ‘guide’ to one of THE classic SF-Horror movies from the 20th century. It’s going to be even more fun as one of my friends is rather squeamish so I’m fully expecting him to be bouncing out of his seat at least once or twice.

Of course I got talking to the guy on the till as I bought the tickets. He was probably one of the older staff members – late 20’s/early 30’s I’d guess – and the foyer was reasonably quiet so we had the opportunity to discuss the relative merits of Alien Vs Aliens. After some disagreements we decided that, as they were essentially in different genres (Sf/Horror Vs Combat SF) that they were both exemplars of their respective fields. I still think Aliens (probably the Special Edition/Directors Cut) is the better movie but then I’ve always been a sucker for SF style combat movies.

Naturally with the 40th birthday of Alien we’re about to enter into the anniversary space of my favourite style of movie – Eighties films. From 2020 onwards I expect to be seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Risky Business (1983), Gremlins (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Ferris Bueller (1986), Top Gun (1986), Aliens (1986), The Lost Boys (1987), Heathers (1988), Say Anything (1989)……. It’s going to be SO much fun seeing them at the movies again (or for the first time as I saw a number of 80’s movies on VHS the first time around).