Are there real physical differences between a morning person vs a night person that can be measured and used to explain the difference?
Or is it just an adapted preference randomly varying from person to person?
(see also this Q&A over at Biology.SE: https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/93965/why-do-morning-people-have-shorter-biological-clocks/93966)
It's a real thing, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's set in stone or that preferences can't be changed/learned.
At least some portion of these preferences seem to be genetic and related to regulation of circadian rhythms. In brief: animals, including humans, have a system of molecular "clocks" that keep track of roughly the length of a day. These clocks most often run naturally slightly longer than 24 hours: if you keep someone (or, preferably, a lab animal) in constant darkness, they will still keep a daily sleep/wake cycle, but it will drift over time, corresponding to a >24 hour day.
To actually follow the real cycle of day and night, light is used to resynchronize the clock every day.
If someone's "natural" clock (without light synchronization) runs a bit shorter (faster) than average, you'd expect that person would tend to feel like waking up a bit earlier as well as feeling tired a bit earlier in the evening - a morning person. If someone's natural clock runs a bit slower than an actual day, then morning will come a bit sooner than they prefer, and in the evening they won't quite feel tired yet.
That said, like most traits of this nature, the biological underpinnings of these tendencies only explain part of it, and you would not expect to find people sorted neatly into "morning" and "night" but rather to follow something like a Gaussian distribution, with most people in the middle.
Here's a recent genome-wide association study and a review of some others on "chronotype" (the morning/night preference you ask about):
Jones, S. E., Lane, J. M., Wood, A. R., van Hees, V. T., Tyrrell, J., Beaumont, R. N.,… & Weedon, M. N. (2019). Genome-wide association analyses of chronotype in 697,828 individuals provides insights into circadian rhythms. Nature communications, 10(1), 1-11.
Kalmbach, D. A., Schneider, L. D., Cheung, J., Bertrand, S. J., Kariharan, T., Pack, A. I., & Gehrman, P. R. (2017). Genetic basis of chronotype in humans: insights from three landmark GWAS. Sleep, 40(2).
The Day Studier Vs The Night Studier
The Day Studier
For students who have more energy earlier in the day, studying in the morning may work best, when the brain is better able to focus.
Students who study during the day benefit from a refreshed and energized mind after a good night’s sleep. This energy makes it easier to focus on what is being learned, and absorb the information more effectively.
Benefits of studying during the day:
- The brain is refreshed from a good sleep and can absorb more information
- Natural light good for your eyes and keeps you alert
- Doesn’t disrupt sleep schedule
- Easier to create a study group with classmates
The Night Studier
For students who have more energy later in the day, evening or nighttime can be a more effective time to study. With fewer distractions and peace and quiet, studying at night can help improve a student’s concentration and focus.
If your student is an evening or night studier, it’s important to make sure he or she is still getting enough sleep each night. Kids need an average of 8-9 hours of sleep each night—if homework or studying is delaying bedtime, get into the habit of starting a bit earlier and sticking to a nightly schedule.
Benefits of studying during the evening/night:
- More peace and quiet
- Fewer distractions
- A clearer mind for creative thinking
- Sleeping after studying can consolidate information and improve recall
How Guys Really Feel About One-Night Stands
One-night stands can be mind-blowing or regret-inducing, and you never really know which it's going to be. In this week's Sex Talk Realness, Cosmopolitan.com spoke with three anonymous twentysomething men about how they really feel about one night of sex without any commitment.
How old are you?Man A: Twenty-three.
Man B: Twenty-two.
Man C: Twenty-four.
How old were you when you had your first one-night stand?Man A: Twenty.
Man B: Twenty.
Man C: Seventeen.
How did it happen?Man A: My first one-night stand happened while traveling abroad and she lives in completely different country than I do. Plus, we never got each other's contact information, so staying in touch was never an option.
Man B: We had been talking for a while on Tinder and finally, she told me she wanted to come over so she could get away from roommate drama, and I was surprised that she was making the first move. When she came over, it just happened and I went with it. We didn't see each other again because I was just really embarrassed that I let it happen in the first place. I'm very into one-partner sexual relationships, so every time I saw her on campus, I felt like like I was staring directly at my mistakes.
Man C: We had known each other through mutual friends from high school and I had actually been on a date with our mutual friend. One night when my parents were gone, I texted her to see what she was doing and she came over and we slept together. After that we never spoke again and I didn't have any interest in seeing her again.
Did both parties seem OK with the one-night-stand-ness of the situation?Man A: Seeing as we were both tourists who totally knew we would never see each other again, we were both into it. That's probably just because it was so defined and people are usually more inclined to do things they normally wouldn't do when they're on vacation, so I have no idea how she feels about one-night stands in general. I did, and still think, it was a fun experience. I just saw it as two people who connected for a night, had a lot of fun, and then went their separate ways.
Man B: We were both OK with it because we'd always had sexual tension between us and figured it was inevitably going to happen at some point. At the time, it felt physically satisfying and it was a totally unexpected surprise, but looking back, I completely regret it. I really liked the girl I had that one-night stand with and I felt like I ruined the dynamic of that potential relationship by going through with it.
Man C: No, because the sex didn't last very long. I was slightly embarrassed that the sex was so quick, but I also thought, Man, I need to have one-night stands more often! Now, I look back and just laugh at myself.
What percentage of your sexual encounters are one-night stands now? Man A: If we are talking about one and done, then it's probably about 30 percent. I'm in my early 20s in a major city, with no desire to settle down, and I want to enjoy myself while I can. I won't shy away from a relationship if I find someone I can't live without, but until that time comes, I plan on having a little fun.
Man B: I'd say 10 to 20 percent. I don't as much anymore, partly because I live out in the middle of nowhere and my town has less than 7,000 people in it, but mostly just because I'm looking for a connection with a committed partner.
Man C: It used to be 70 percent, if not more. But not anymore because I'm in a relationship.
Do you prefer one-night stands to relationships or friends with benefits? Man A: I've never really had a serious, committed relationship, so I can't really speak to that. It's not that I'm opposed to the idea, it's just that I enjoy being single too much, and would rather focus on my career and my life than being with somebody else. Plus, I've seen what people become when they get in relationships, and I really don't want or need that in my life right now. I've tried having friends with benefits, which is obviously ideal, but one person always ends up having feelings for the other person, and if you are only having sex with that person, than you really are kind of in a relationship without even knowing it.
Man B: I'm not really very happy with either of those, but if I had to choose, I would choose friends with benefits. There's a certain kinship in a FWB relationship that is very comforting and the mutual understanding does wonders for the confidence of the relationship. To me, one-night stands feel very cold and foreign.
Man C: I am in a committed relationship now, but from time to time, I miss the one-night stands and friends with benefits situations. If I am single, I prefer friends with benefits to one-night stands. That way, you always have someone or multiple people on call. Being able to text someone, "What are you up to?" and have them know that's code for "Let's get it on" is a great thing to have in your pocket.
How often do you tell the people you're having one-night stands with that it's just going to be a one-night stand? Man A: If I get the opportunity to tell them, I always make it crystal clear that I'm not looking for a relationship. I'm not out hurt people. I want the woman to know where my interests lie, and if she is interested in the same thing, then it's on her to not let herself get too attached. It doesn't always work though because no matter what you tell some women, they still expect more, but for my own conscience, I feel I did the right thing.
Man B: My one-night stands have always been spontaneous, so I've never been in the position to tell them it would be a one-night stand.
Man C: I never tell them that. It just happens. I also always text them the next day and am really nice to them because sometimes I want to add them to my friends with benefits roster.
How do you deal with misunderstandings about the seriousness of the hookup?Man A: I definitely don't ignore a woman I had one-night stand with. If I see her, I'll say hi and be courteous, but I'll also make it pretty obvious that I have no intention of seeing it further. I do the best to be civil and cordial about everything I do. If I'm the one that mistook it for something more than it was, then I normally rely on the rule of two. I will contact them twice, and if they don't respond, or I feel that they're are not interested, I'll leave them alone.
Man B: A girl I knew at college was interested in me and I was interested in her, so I traveled to see her and we had a one-night stand. I went back to see her again to hook up another time, but our dynamic had changed and I was very confused. We eventually talked it out and she explained that she just didn't feel a connection with me. It really hurt to hear that. I had put myself out there and went against my normal pattern of traditional dating to have a chance at casually hooking up with this girl, and getting turned down put me in a really bad place for awhile.
Man C: In college, I had a few of those situations, and they actually turned into relationships. In every situation, either she or I were playing hard to get and that just made the other person chase harder.
Would you ever date someone who was initially a one-night stand?Man A: Sure. Just because I'm not really looking for a relationship doesn't mean I would shy away from one if I found someone I really liked. I've had a few instances where it started off as a one-night stand and became more of a friends with benefits situation. One of those instances in particular was going very well, but she eventually developed feelings for me, even though she knew I didn't want anything more than that, and she ended up feeling hurt and frustrated.
Man B: If there's a mutual interest in each other and it feels right, then yeah, I would. I once had a one-night stand turned into one of my most satisfying relationships. We had sex and then afterward we had a real conversation and I decided that I needed to make a move toward a relationship with her. A couple weeks later, she was plus-one to a family wedding and then we started being exclusive. That relationship lasted for about six or seven months. I still keep in touch with her and her family, and my family always asks how she's doing. I miss her a lot.
Man C: That seems to be how all my relationships begin. Sex always happens before the relationship does because I like knowing we have sexual chemistry from the start and going from there. There was a girl at work who I was very attracted to, but I worried that sleeping together would mess up my career. Then, one night all the coworkers went out together and I woke up the next morning naked in her bed wondering what the hell happened. We've been together over a year now.
Do you view the woman you've had one-night stands with differently than women you've dated? Man A: I definitely look at women I could see myself dating differently than women I'm just purely sexually attracted to and want to sleep with. Overall though, I don't really view women I have one-night stands with any differently than women I date.
Man B: Yes, because I generally regret my one-night stands and try my best to avoid them. It's nothing personal though, since most of my one-night stands were wonderful girls. It's more about my internal struggle of trying to be that guy that is OK with hookups because everyone else seems to be, and also being the guy that was raised in a Catholic household that emphasizes romantic love over erotic love.
Man C: Not at all. If I'm doing it, then I can't judge them for it either. I respect all women and hate guys who think it's trashy when women do it, but they do it too.
Was there ever a time when you got tired of one-night stands? Man A: Not yet, but I'm sure I will some day.
Man B: I feel that way right now. Mostly because I'm not feeling any sort of deep satisfaction with one-night stands, so I'm less likely to want to keep pursuing them.
Man C: Yes. When you are having sex with different people over and over again, it does get boring. You get to a point where you want to be able to wake up next to someone and cuddle, as opposed to saying, "Want me to get you an Uber?"
If you could change anything about your one-night stands, what would it be?Man A: I wish there could be better communication about what the situation is. I think if both parties were aware that it was a one-night stand from the get-go, it would be so much better.
Man B: I wish I could take my feelings out of a one-night stand and just do it, no matter how little I knew them beforehand.
Man C: Nothing. I enjoyed them all.
What advice would you give people considering having a one-night stand?Man A: Don't go looking for love with a one-night stand, and make sure you can really detach yourself from any feelings. If you can look at the one-night stand as two people who are having fun together without any strings attached, you won't have any problems.
Man B: Be absolutely sure you know what you're doing and actually want to do it. If you find yourself questioning whether or not this is actually a good idea, don't do it. Some people aren't built for it, and if you're not and you do it anyway, it'll only cause you grief.
Man C: I'd tell guys to be polite afterward and continue to be. You never know when you might need a friends with benefits hookup or when one of these women might become your girlfriend. Plus, if you are rude, you can develop a terrible reputation that could hurt your chances with other women. Overall, I'd tell people to have fun. You only live once and deserve to let loose.
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You'll Feel A Sense Of Familiarity
When you experience love at first sight, it’s very common to feel like you've already met this person before. Nothing feels forced. It all seems naturally comfortable between the two of you. "This can be incredibly powerful, as you feel your connection to this person may have existed prior to your first meeting," Richards-Smith says.
It's hard to build a connection with someone when you're constantly a nervous wreck around them. But when you're completely relaxed, you can be yourself. That means you can bring up topics that you're truly interested in or share your opinions without any fear of being judged. Feeling instantly comfortable with someone is a great sign that you may have the type of chemistry that's meant to last.
Being Lovesick Isn’t Just an Old Saying — It’s a Real Thing
Though unrequited love can include a bit of heartbreak, crushing on a person is also a little fun. (Like, it’s nice to have someone to think about and to revel in that little rush when you hear from them!)
But what happens when your innocent crush turns into an actual addiction or it interferes in your life to the point that it impacts your mental health and physical wellness?
Yup. Turns out Lovesickness is a real thing and you’re not just being melodramatic.
What is love sickness?
In 1979, Dr. Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” to describe what most people commonly refer to as “lovesickness.” Her work put into words what humans throughout history have long known: that people who fall in love become involuntarily crazy. Lovesickness is marked by a mixture of intense romantic attraction and an obsessive need to have the attraction reciprocated, according to Psychology Today. When feelings of love aren’t returned, the lovesick individual sometimes plunges into despair.
But lovesickness isn’t just about feelings of romance, sadness and longing. The condition contains elements of intrusive thoughts, obsession, impulsiveness and delusions that some experts think mimic mental illness according to a Huffington Post article written by Dr. David Sack. These feelings and behaviors are deeply rooted in physiology and chemicals in the brain.
Why do I feel so miserably wonderful?
Even though elements of lovesickness closely correspond with mental health issues, falling in love is still a powerful and sought-after experience. If you’ve gone through lovesickness, you can probably recall feeling both miserable and wonderful at the same time. You may have even felt like you experienced highs and lows similar to substance use.
As it turns out, lovesickness results from chemical reactions in the brain that are actually quite similar to the brain’s reaction to drugs. The lovesick brain is flooded by serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine &mdash each of which trigger strong emotional and physiological responses &mdash according to Sack. The mixture of these chemicals produces emotional, mental and physical symptoms that are simultaneously lovely and terrible.
Symptoms of lovesickness
Of course, lovesickness doesn’t have to occur in each and every relationship you enter. How would you get any work done, after all? But if you’re in a new relationship or recently experienced a breakup, here are some signs you may be lovesick according to Sack:
- Idealization of the other person&rsquos characteristics (positive and negative)
- Intrusive thoughts. You go about your business, but are suddenly flooded with images and thoughts of your beloved.
- A sense of euphoria in response to real or perceived signs of reciprocation.
- Fantasy. You daydream about your love interest, even when it negatively impacts your job performance. Alternatively, you make up entire scenes with your love interest that aren’t based on reality.
- Self-doubt. You fear rejection from your love interest so much that you question yourself and feel unbearably shy in his or her presence.
- Weakness. You lose strength in your knees and legs when you think about him or her or have trouble controlling your shaking hands in his or her presence.
- Insomnia. You have difficulty sleeping at night due to intrusive thoughts or because of your heightened sensitivity to your emotions and fears.
- Anxiety. You experience heart palpitations, flushing of your cheeks or shaking. You fear the worst possible outcome from your infatuation.
- Maintaining romantic intensity through adversity.
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as trembling, flushing, weakness or heart palpitations around the other person.
- Arranging your schedule to maximize possible encounters with the other person.
- Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning.
Possible health outcomes of lovesickness
Usually, lovesickness is just a roller coaster to ride until the chemicals in your brain level out. Sometimes, however, the rush of chemicals, emotions and physical reactions can come with undesirable health outcomes. Self-doubt, insomnia and intrusive thoughts are often the calling cards of major depression. Moreover, long-term exposure to anxiety and stress &mdash no matter what the cause &mdash puts people at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, headaches and chronic pain.
If you feel lovesick more days than not or your lovesickness isn’t going away, here are a couple of things you can do to practice self-care for the sake of your health:
Here's what making your bed (or not) reveals about your personality
It turns out it's not just a personal preference — you can learn a lot about a person by knowing whether or not they make their bed in the morning.
That's according to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by market research company OnePoll and commissioned by sleep research site Sleepopolis. The report, which was recently highlighted on the TODAY show, found that people who make their beds tend to be adventurous, confident, sociable and high-maintenance. Meanwhile, people who don't make their beds tend to be shy, moody, curious and sarcastic.
Further, bed-makers tend to be morning people who rise without alarm clocks. They're likely to work in health or technology-related fields. Those who don't make their beds, on the other hand, tend to be night owls prone to hitting the snooze button. They tend to work in business or finance.
So can becoming a bed-maker actually change your life? Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Seal William H. McCraven believes that picking up this daily practice can have a bigger impact than you might think.
In a commencement speech at the University of Texas, McCraven, who authored the book "Make Your Bed: Little Things Can Change Your Life. and Maybe the World," told students that the importance of making your bed every day was one of the most powerful lessons he learned during his time as a Navy SEAL.
"If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,'' he said. "It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed."
He added that making your bed helps to reinforce the importance of life's finer details. He emphasized that "if you can't do the little things right, you'll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made."
McCraven's logic is supported by research from the National Sleep Foundation, which finds that people who make their beds in the morning tend to get better rest at night because they are falling asleep in a tidy, organized bedroom.
While Sleepopolis data suggests that making your bed can have a positive impact on your overall lifestyle, the same study found the habit does not affect the amount of sleep you get. According to the survey, both bed-makers and non-bed makers get an average of just six and a half hours of sleep per night, less than the seven to nine hours of sleep experts recommend.
Successful business leaders like Arianna Huffington, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates argue that despite today's non-stop work culture, proper rest is crucial to your health.
"I can tell you with authority that when I'm exhausted, when I'm running on empty, I'm the worst version of myself," Huffington told CNBC Make It at a Fuel List event last year. "I'm more reactive. I'm less empathetic. I'm less creative. And all of us can testify to that."
After passing out at her desk in 2007 from sleep deprivation and exhaustion, Huffington committed to making self-care a priority. It's a "complete delusion," she said, to think you can be productive on very little sleep. She added, "I'm not saying that you can't succeed by burning out. But you can succeed much more effectively, and much more sustainably, and with much less damage to your health and your relationships."
Night Owls and Early Risers Have Different Brain Structures
Are you one of those people who rises before dawn and never needs an alarm clock? Or would you happily sleep until midmorning if you could? Do you feel like you are just hitting your day's stride by late afternoon, or do you like to get the big tasks of the day accomplished early?
Most of us have some degree of preference for late nights or early mornings. Where an individual falls on this spectrum largely determines his or her chronotype -- an individual disposition toward the timing of daily periods of activity and rest. Some of us are clearly "larks" -- early risers -- while others of us are distinctly night owls. The rest of us fall somewhere in between the two.
We're learning that these night owl and early riser tendencies are driven by some significant degree by biological and genetic forces. Different chronotypes are associated with genetic variations, as well as differences in lifestyle and mood disposition, cognitive function and risks for health problems, including sleep disorders and depression.
New research has now found evidence of physical differences in the brains of different chronotypes. Scientists at Germany's Aachen University conducted brain scans of early risers, night owls, and "intermediate" chronotypes who fell in between the two ends of the spectrum. They discovered structural differences in the brains of people with different sleep-wake tendencies. Researchers observed a group of 59 men and women of different chronotypes: 16 were early risers, 20 were intermediate sleepers, and 23 were night owls. They found that compared to early risers and intermediates, night owls showed reduced integrity of white matter in several areas of the brain. White matter is fatty tissue in the brain that facilitates communication among nerve cells. Diminished integrity of the brain's white matter has been linked to depression and to disruptions of normal cognitive function.
The cause of this difference in quality of white matter among night owls compared to other sleepers is not clear. Researchers speculate that the diminished integrity of white matter may be a result of the chronic "social jet lag" that characterizes the effects of the sleep-wake routines of many night owls. People who are disposed toward staying up late and sleeping late often find themselves at constant odds with the schedule of life that surrounds them, particularly work and school schedules that require early-morning starts. This can leave night owls chronically sleep deprived, and experiencing many of the same symptoms -- fatigue and daytime sleeplessness, difficulty focusing, physical pain and discomfort -- of travel-induced jet lag.
Research indicates that people who stay up late are at higher risk for depression. Studies have also shown night owls more prone to more significant tobacco and alcohol use, as well as inclined to eating more, and also less healthful diets than early risers or people with intermediate sleep patterns. But research on the influence of chronotype isn't all bad news for night owls. Some studies have shown that people who stay up late are more productive than early risers, and have more stamina throughout the length of their days. Other research has shown that night owls display greater reasoning and analytical abilities than their earlier-to-bed counterparts. Stay-up-late types, according to research, achieve greater financial and professional success on average than those people with earlier bedtimes and wake times.
This latest study is the first to offer physical evidence of neurological differences among people with different sleep tendencies. But other research has also shown that the inclinations toward staying up late or rising early are deeply rooted in biological and genetic differences:
Scientists have discovered an "alarm clock" gene that activates the body's biological clock in the morning from its period of overnight rest. Identifying this gene and its function may eventually tell us important new information about the influence of chronotype and circadian function on sleep and health.
Several studies involving twins have demonstrated genetic links to several aspects of sleep, including circadian timing and sleep/wake preferences.
Research has also revealed differences in brain metabolic function among night owls compared to early risers and middle-of-the-road sleepers. These metabolic differences were discovered in regions of the brain involved in mood, and may be one reason why night owls are at higher risk for depression related to insomnia.
Recently, scientists identified a gene variant that exerts a strong influence over the circadian clock, and with the inclination to stay up late or rise early. This genetic variation -- which affects nearly the entire population -- can shift the timing of an individual's 24-hour sleep-wake cycle by as much as 60 minutes.
If our preferences for sleep and wake times are strongly influenced by genetics and biology, what are we to do when faced with inclinations that don't match up with the demands and responsibilities of our lives? Genetic forces appear to play an important role in our preferences, but we're still working to understand just how, and how much. And we're far from powerless: The choices we make about our sleep environments and sleep habits can also make a significant difference. A recent study showed that limiting nighttime exposure to artificial light and increasing exposure to daytime sunlight can shift sleep-wake cycles earlier -- even for night owls. Strong sleep habits -- being careful about alcohol consumption close to bedtime, sticking to regular sleep and wake times, making sure your bedroom is dark and electronic-gadget free -- can help reinforce your sleep schedule, even if it doesn't align perfectly with your natural tendencies.
More broadly, I hope we'll see society begin to recognize the power of these biological sleep patterns, and the need for flexibility to enable people to construct work and school schedules that align better with their dispositions toward sleep. This is a smart, sleep-friendly strategy that would be good for public health and productivity.
Nail Biting: Mental Disorder Or Just A Bad Habit?
Pathological nail biting may be a form of grooming on steroids, but it also makes the biter feel good, unlike fear-driven OCD.
Do you bite your nails? For 30 years, I did. We nail biters can be "pathological groomers" — people for whom normal grooming behaviors, like skin picking or hair pulling, have become virtually uncontrollable.
But psychiatry is changing the way it thinks about pathological grooming, and these changes will be reflected in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM, short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A new version is coming out early next year, and it puts pathological grooming in the same category as another disorder you've probably heard of: obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD.
This rethinking gives pathological groomers some new ways to think about those behaviors.
I can tell you the exact moment I became a nail biter. I was 6 years old, watching my mom get dressed for work. She paused to mull something over, chewing on a nail. My reaction: "How cool! How grown-up! I think I'll try it."
I never stopped. It was embarrassing — like wearing your neuroses on your sleeve. At parties, I learned to wrap my fingers all the way around my wine glass, so that my nails faced my chest. I hated filling out forms in public places.
Recently, something happened that made me finally quit biting my nails. I'll get to that in a bit. But I was feeling quite pleased with myself when I showed them to Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. "Your cuticles are pushed back. It's not bad. Looks like you're a recovered nail biter is what I'd say," she pointed out.
Mathews specializes in pathological grooming — a group of behaviors that includes nail biting, hair pulling, called trichotillomania, and skin picking, known as dermatillomania.
"They are behaviors that stem from normal grooming — the kind of thing that most animals do and is evolutionarily adaptive, right?" says Mathews.
But in pathological groomers, those behaviors go haywire. Instead of being triggered by, say, a hangnail, the pathological nail biter is triggered by driving, reading or feeling stressed out. "After a while, the behavior becomes untriggered," says Mathews. "It becomes just an automatic behavior that has no relationship to external stimuli at all."
Until recently, the DSM treated pathological grooming a bit like an afterthought and put it in a catch-all category called "not otherwise classified." But the new DSM proposes to lump together pathological groomers and those with mental disorders like OCD. That includes people who wash their hands compulsively or have to line up their shoes a certain way.
These behaviors have a lot in common. In both cases, it's taking a behavior that's normal and healthy and putting it into overdrive, doing it to the point of being excessive. But in at least one way, OCD and pathological grooming are also very different.
"In OCD, the compulsion is really unwanted," says Mathews. People with OCD don't want to be washing their hands or checking the stove over and over again. There is no fun in it. There's fear — fear that if they don't do something, something else that's very bad will happen to them.
But from her pathological grooming patients, Mathews hears a very different story: They enjoy it. "It's rewarding. It feels good. When you get the right nail, it feels good. It's kind of a funny sense of reward, but it's a reward," she says.
I can relate to that. And in my household, I'm not the only one. My daughter Cora is 3, and she's why I decided to quit. I didn't want Cora to learn to bite from me, the same way I learned from my mom. So for three months, I wore acrylic fingernails and spent many long hours at the manicurist maintaining them.
And it worked. I lost the urge. But apparently, it was too late.
"I don't want to put my fingers in my mouth. I just [do] it even though I don't want to," Cora explained to me. But was she just mimicking me, or was there something else going on — something deep and strong enough to make nail biters out of at least four generations of women in my family, including my grandmother?
Francis Lee and his colleagues at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York found that mice with a certain mutation obsessively groomed themselves.
That's where Francis Lee, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, comes in. A few years ago, a colleague came to Lee with a mystery: A mouse — bred with a specific gene mutation — was behaving very oddly. "I was dumbstruck," recalls Lee. "It was just repetitively moving its front paws over its eyes and ears," — a behavior he instantly recognized from studying people.
Mice bred with this mutation groom so much, they give themselves bald spots. "They've removed the hair around their eyes, they actually look like they have little white rings around their eyes," says Lee.
In these mice, the genome is destiny. Every mouse that has this particular mutation — even if it's separated from its mother early on — eventually will become a pathological groomer. And the grooming isn't all. Lee says these are some of the most anxious mice he's ever seen. He even said to his colleague at the time, "That is one crazy mouse."
People, of course, are a lot more complicated. There are some genetic mutations that seem to crop up in people with OCD and in people who groom pathologically. But just because you have the mutation doesn't mean you get the behavior.
In fact, with OCD, it's more likely you won't, says Mathews. "As genetically determined as OCD is, the risk to a family member for someone who has OCD is only 20 percent. So it's 80 percent chance of not getting it," she says.
Which brings me back to my own crazy mouse.
As a parent, there are ways I could lower the chances that Cora will grow into a biter. When Mathews works with young kids, she does things like put Band-Aids on their fingers to help them notice when they're biting or pulling. Then she sets up reward systems to try to steer them away from the behavior.
I'd already started to do a clumsier version of this, gently batting Cora's hand away from her mouth whenever she started to bite. But it had come at a price, one I wasn't entirely comfortable with. I had to decide what was worse: making Cora feel bad about herself for something she couldn't help, or just letting her grow into a nail biter, which, while certainly not the worst thing in the world, had given me some grief.
Tracy Foose, a psychiatrist in San Francisco who specializes in anxiety disorders, seemed to offer a third option. She bites her nails, and, like me, she has a 3-year-old daughter. Foose has a whole different take on it — probably a much better one. Nail biting is just part of who she is. She's even proud of it. "You know, my mom bites her nails. She was an artist. So, I think I associate it with being cool and being older and working on something important," she says.
During her residency, Foose met a patient at the ER one night. "A lovely, middle-aged mother of several kids who came in and looked scared out of her wits," she recalls. This woman had become fixated on a perceived blemish on her face. "She had picked at her cheek to a level where she was bleeding profusely," says Foose.
"She truly could not control herself, despite the pain that it was causing, despite the disfigurement. And nail biting sort of forever fell off my radar," says Foose.
Nail biting is not life threatening. On the scale of human failings, it barely lifts the needle. It's not to say Cora wouldn't be better off not biting her nails. But, says Foose, there may be a better way to talk about it. Just as Foose had removed the stigma and guilt for herself, maybe I could do that for my daughter.
"You can go to the place of giving kids information. Like, 'Oh, I see you biting your nails. Mommy bites her nails, too. You know why we shouldn't bite our nails? Because there are germs that live under our nails,' " explains Foose.
A way that frames it, in other words, as a choice. One that's hers to make — even if it takes having her own kids one day to make it.
What's The Difference Between Being an Alcoholic and Just Really, Really Liking to Drink?
On my last milestone birthday, my best friend announced triumphantly that she had created a cake that captured my personality so perfectly that anyone seeing it would instantly know I was the one being celebrated. With a flourish, she handed me a glass of champagne and presented the cake. It was decorated like a bottle of gin.
“It’s wonderful,” I said, trying to sound grateful. Yet something sharp and rusty poked through my tone. “But I’m more than that, right?”
She laughed and refilled my glass, because, of course, I’d emptied it in seconds. “I guess,” she replied. “You have to admit, though, sweetie…drinking is your thing.”
That was the day I realized something I had never admitted to myself. I went back through my photos and calendar from the previous year. Prosecco on the deck, craft beer festivals, yoga and wine class, Scotch tasting courses, happy hour with work pals, sangria with family, Prohibition cocktail parties—event after event with glasses held aloft. But, I reasoned, I wasn’t alone in that swirl, all my other friends drank daily, too. We just really, really loved drinking, and much of the time, it loved us back.
Yet I couldn’t shake the image of that cake. It started a ripple of questions that I found exceedingly hard to answer without a glass in my hand. Was it possible that drinking wasn’t something I did, but who I had become? And is that really who I wanted to be?
I knew the answer. I just didn’t like it.
I discovered, through informal research over coffee with friends, that all the women in my social circle asked themselves a variation of “the drinking question.” A hellacious hangover, a particularly overfilled recycling bin, or a forgotten string of text messages to an ex usually triggers a deeper contemplation. Am I drinking too much?
That might kick off a Google search about what constitutes a healthy amount. The World Health Organization notes that, for a woman, moderate drinking is defined as one to two drinks consumed three days per week. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism puts the maximum for women at seven drinks per week.
But gauging your drinking by numbers like those is misleading, Marc Kern, Ph.D., founder of SMART Recovery, a non-profit proving assistance to those with addictive behaviors, tells SELF. Those guidelines were developed based on potential health risks, not possible addiction issues, he says.
“Plenty of women drink more than those amounts and don’t have a problem,” he says. “Those numbers can’t be your true starting point if you’re looking at your own consumption. You need to begin with the why instead of the how much.”
In the psychology field, alcohol use was once seen from a more black-and-white perspective, he adds. You were either an alcoholic or you weren’t. But the major manual for mental health professionals—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, produced by the American Psychiatric Association—included a significant shift when it came out with the newest version in 2013.
Previously, the DSM had only two categories of disorder: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. But now, there’s a condition called “alcohol use” disorder with mild, moderate, and severe sub-classifications. Basically, Kern notes, it means that alcohol use has been put on a spectrum, with many shades of gray.
Where you fall within this span often depends on why you drink and what happens when you do.
“Do you always tend to have more than you planned?” Kern says. “Are you drinking because it’s the only way you relax, or can fall asleep, or deal with stress?”
One of the biggest questions, he suggests, is: What would happen if you quit drinking for a while? For some people, that may just give the liver a welcome break, but for others, some unwelcome feelings might rush in.
“Our society emphasizes that it’s okay to self-medicate, with drinking widely endorsed as a coping strategy,” he says. “But for some people, alcohol becomes their only tool for dealing with difficult emotions. And that’s something to take a good look at.”
Polling my friends on their drinking habits was enlightening, not just because it put my own drinking into perspective, but also theirs. I remembered a conversation I had with my partner, who’s never been much of a drinker. She expressed some concern (um…what red flag?) about the fact that I drank three or four alcoholic beverages daily, and my reply was: “Everybody does.”
But the real answer turned out to be, “Everybody I know does.”
That’s fairly common, Heidi Wallace, clinical director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Springbrook campus in Oregon, tells SELF. We tend to associate with people who drink about as much as we do, she says. For example, if you’re the never-miss-a-happy-hour type, it’s likely that you’ll attract others who wouldn’t dream of skipping one, either.
This can be tough if you’re thinking of cutting back, Wallace says, because you might be met with a range of reactions, including outright hostility. Some women who consider lowering their alcohol intake might waver because it means they’ll miss a slew of social events.
“The fear of losing friendships is big,” Wallace says. “It can feel overwhelming, like you have to change so much more than how much you drink, because you actually do.”
For instance, you may have to shift how you spend your time. Your friends are off to wine pairing dinners and bar crawls and you’re…doing what? Wistfully watching their scroll of happy-fun-time pics on social media? Suddenly, abstinence doesn’t feel so healthy anymore.
“Some people might find that need to cultivate a different group of core friends,” says Wallace. “If you’re trying to be healthy, you want to be surrounded by other healthy people. That’s the only way to sustain your efforts to take care of yourself.”
When I realized that my gin-soaked ways weren’t charming anymore (or perhaps never had been), I wasn’t ready to hang up my cocktail shaker quite yet. So, I decided to embark on an odyssey of moderation. I would limit myself to two drinks per day, I told myself. Or I would only drink when I was out, and not keep any in the house. Or I would be dry during the week but drink as much as I wanted on the weekends.
Putting together specific plans like these can be helpful for creating a framework around drinking, Rebecca Block, Ph.D., a New York-based clinical psychologist who specializes in moderation management, tells SELF.
“There are some strategies that can be useful, like looking at your drinking patterns and determining the point when enjoyment ends and problematic behavior begins,” she says. For instance, does it take two drinks before your drinking gets fuzzy? Do you ever suffer from blackouts or “brown-outs” when you kinda remember what happened, but you’re vague on the details?
Block encourages people to look at issues like these, and then set goals. Planning nights for drinking, and how much to drink on those nights, can help create a greater sense of control.
Moderation isn’t universally loved, though. Wallace says she’s not a fan of the moderation movement, because the research on success rates isn’t promising yet. Also, she believes the emphasis is put too much on the minutia of drinking—how many ounces are in a pour, which events will I drink at, how many of those events are there this week—instead of the complexity of factors that might go into the decision to drink.
For example, genetics can play a major part in the divide between delight and addiction.
“You could have two women, same age, same weight, and give them the exact same amount of alcohol every day for a year,” says Wallace. “One might develop a problematic relationship to alcohol, and the other might not. Why? Because of genetics and emotional factors. It’s much more complex than just the amount that you’re drinking.”
For many of my friends, drinking is still a lovely leisure activity that they do quite often. Recently, I scrolled through Instagram at around 11 a.m. and saw at least three people had posted photos of “morning wine” on a beautiful summer day.
To be honest, I was jealous. Maybe I always will be. Because I gave moderation a shot and it simply didn’t work for me. I tried a “dry month” a few times. Then, I limited the number of drinks I had per event—promising myself that I would have a two-drinks-maximum. I set other rules, such as no alcohol in the house, fewer boozy events on the weekends, no choosing restaurants based on the size of a bartender’s wine pour. On and on it went, with each attempt resulting in broken vows to myself. So, not only did I have the same number of hangovers and regretful days, but I also added disappointment to the mix.
My one success of doing a “dry year” didn’t feel like a victory, because I white-knuckled my way through it, with a laser focus on that end date. I fantasized about what I’d drink once the year was over, planned out my liquor store run months in advance. This is what some people call a “dry drunk,” when someone has the mindset of a lush, even when sober.
So, about seven months ago, I quit drinking. For good.
I don’t consider myself an alcoholic—having read the criteria of the DSM for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, I became convinced that I was, instead, in a “shade of gray” zone of alcohol use disorder.
But I come from a long and not-so-proud history of alcoholics, so I feel that by stopping now, I’m eliminating my risk of following that family tradition. I’m 49 years old, the age that my grandmother was when she died as a result of her drinking. She fell into a coma after a particularly hard bender, and never re-emerged.
For me, that damn cake may have been a tipping point, but it was truly asking the one hard question that made the most difference: Why do I drink?
That question can prompt a simple declaration or a complicated, thorny, worth-it journey. For me, I realized that I drank to numb out, even in times of joy and celebration. I liked the feeling of becoming a passenger, letting the buzz take the wheel, ceding control in a kind of happy obliteration. But I finally realized that’s not relaxation it’s erasure.
Life's Extremes: Early Birds vs. Night Owls
It's 6:30 a.m. For "early birds" or "larks," that's prime time. For "night owls," however, such an hour is ungodly.
Most of us are neither pure lark nor owl. But we all know people who can spring out of bed at the crack of dawn or stay alert well into the wee hours. In recent years, science has increasingly shown why these extremes exist.
Right from birth, our personal biological clocks are already wound. Genetics establishes a person's "chronotype," which is pegged to when his or her body feels up and at 'em.
"People span the range of those who are very early risers to very late setters, and this is genetically determined," said Frederick Brown, a professor of psychology at Penn State.
To a certain extent, behavior and environment &mdash say, routinely pumping iron in a well-lit gym toward midnight &mdash can shift our built-in predispositions. But for those of us squarely in one chronotype camp or the other, in the end, the body is the boss.
"If you're a morning-type person, you can't become an evening type, and vice versa," said Brown. [Read: 10 Things You Didn't Know About You]
The underlying mechanism for our patterns of shut-eye is called a circadian rhythm. This 24-hour cycle of waxing and waning biological processes is found in almost all forms of life.
In human circadian rhythms, body temperature varies over the course of a day, usually peaking in the afternoon and bottoming out in the early morning. Secretions of the hormone melatonin also crest during the night, for instance.
The control center for the circadian rhythm involves two groups of nerve cells, called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), located in the mid-brain behind our eyes. "The circadian pacemaker has multiple projections in the brain affecting endocrine cycles, hormonal cycles &mdash pretty much everything about your body," said Donna Arand, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio.
The interplay of a myriad of genes controls one's circadian rhythm. Back in 2003, researchers discovered a major player, called the Period 3 or "clock" gene. Early birds were more often found to have a longer version of the gene than night owls. [Read: Night Owls Stay Alert Longer than Early Birds]
Dawn or dusk
Natural variances in the circadian rhythm account for sleep session biases. About half of the population falls in the middle &mdash neither a morning nor an evening type, Brown said. These people can adjust more easily to changes in dozing schedules.
"An intermediate person can, without too much difficulty, get up an hour or two earlier than usual, and also go to bed an hour or two later than usual without too much of a problem," Brown told LiveScience.
The remaining half of individuals split evenly into morning or evening types, though this preference "ranges from mild to extreme," said Brown.
Within the owl side of the populace, studies have suggested that around 17 percent of individuals have a clearly "delayed sleep phase," meaning they get tired later in the day than normal, according to Arand.
True early birds are a rarer species. Just 1 percent of the general population has an "advanced sleep phase," Arand said, becoming very drowsy in the early evening, yet they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed well before the sun rises. [Read: 5 Facts About Sleep]
Each sleep-cycle group has a significant age clustering effect. During high-school and college years, hormonal changes and increased socialization prompt many adolescents to begin staying up late and sleeping in, Brown said.
Some of the elderly do just the opposite, partly as a result of less activity and age-related medications that have a sedative effect, such as those for high blood pressure, Arand said.
Can't change me
Despite these drifts in our dozing habits, people's true nature endures, Brown said. A large chunk of teenagers are in fact "wannabe owls," he said, while those with genuine preferences for the dim hours keep that schedule into old age.
At the snoozing extremes are those small fractions of people with sleep-phase disorders. About 0.15 percent have delayed sleep-phase disorder (DSPS), in whichtheir biological clocks are skewed to sleeping very "late" into the day, at least by societal norms (Noon, say).
The counterpart to DSPS, advanced sleep-phase disorder (ASPS), affects an even tinier sliver of the population, but the actual prevalence of both conditions is thought to be much higher.
As might be expected, DSPS is far more common in the young and ASPS more so in the old. Because sunlight exposure cues circadian rhythms, bright light therapy is often used to help treat both conditions by resetting a patient's internal clock. [Read: Why Mom Wakes Before Dad]
Yet Brown and Arand believe that one's unavoidable preference for morning or evening should not be considered bad or unhealthy. Society, they agree, should be more accepting of inherent sleep-and-wake modes, particularly of night owls, for whom adhering to standard business hours is arduous.