Chronotype

Yesterday one of the 10 year-olds I know told me that his younger brother can stay up much later than he can. And he didn’t mean by odd parental decree; he just gets too tired even when he’s allowed to stay up longer, while his brother could keep reading on and on into the night.

Over and over I’m reminded that there are myriad ways like this in which we’re different from each other, no matter how similar our experience or genetic makeup.  And it’s easy to imagine that if we had more latitude to live the differences we might realize more of our actual potential.

I’ve been reading Till Roenneberg’s book about chronotypes. The book is about internal physiological clocks and how individuals have different sleep needs.  Roenneberg suggests that we’d be wise to stop forcing the same schedule on everyone.  He points out that 9-5 is not at all the only work schedule available, and the school hours we mandate for young people and their learning doesn’t bring the best out in many of them.

The little guy marveling at his brother’s talent for staying up late doesn’t know it, but later on if all goes according to tradition, he’ll be the one who’s commended for his sleep habits, while his (also) brilliant little brother may well have to struggle to get his mind to work during other people’s hours.

There’s certainly value in finding a way to function in the social world as it is.  But it’s costly to try to force-fit one’s self (or someone else’s self).  The world is getting more flexible not less in options and configurations for work and livelihood.  It’s the perfect time to stretch our conceptions of how it might be possible for each person to figure out what works best for them and then find ways to reconcile that with the societal structures they need and choose to engage with.

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Absence…

…makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say.  It can also make the plants seem like they’re growing faster, if you leave at the right time of year and the weather cooperates.

.img_2201 … and 11 days later…   img_2309

Things can happen when/because you’re not micromanaging them.  My elation at the size of the plants upon my recent reminded me of that, along with something I heard on Radiolab some time ago.  The episode was about sleep, and in one of the segments,  Guilio Tononi, professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin Madison, talks about practicing and practicing and practicing a piece of music and never quite getting it right, until enlisting sleep as a learning tool, or maybe a learning catalyst.  He wakes up and the music is there, ready to play flawlessly.

It’s worth remembering, I think, that sometimes things happen when one is not hard at work at something. The brain’s working all the time, fussing around with what we’ve been doing, what we are doing, what we’re about to do, and it’s a lot easier to think that learning something is a simple cause and effect process that happens predictably and reliably with time and effort commensurate with the time spent.  It’s so much more complicated.  What might the implications be?

Have a listen to the Radiolab episode if you’re interested in the sleep stuff, and/or how it helps with learning.