24-hour workdays for clock research

24-hour workdays for clock research

As I’ve mentioned before my research interests include chronobiology. Chronobiology is the study of biological rhythms in living things, including the 24-hour rhythm in humans. This 24-hour rhythm is termed circadian rhythm, meaning approximately a day. So, as you can guess, sometimes my work will involve a 24-hour workday! It’s not as horrendous as it sounds, as we’re not constantly working. More than usual, it consists of collecting samples every 4 hours. So, if it’s tendons or another easily accessible tissue, or cells, it doesn’t take so long. But if like my colleagues here at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research you’re interested in articular cartilage, the dissection takes some time.

Fresh faces at 10am: Nan, Richa and Michal

Two days’ ago Team Tendon (Richa and I) and Team Cartilage (Nan and Michal) shared a 24-hour work day:

8:30 am Arrive at work feeling refreshed and ready to go!

10:00 am First sample collection – everyone is psyched and ready for the day. There’s a great mood in the room where the four of us are working and conversation is flowing between us. None of us are particularly tired and we are all excited.

2:00 pm I’m feeling a bit sleepy from nipping out for a rather large lunch as it was Richa’s birthday the previous day and we were also welcoming a new postdoc to the lab. Excitement level is still high all round!

6:00 pm Most people have already left work and I’m just feeling super hungry so I work through this time point quickly! There is less conversation than before but everyone is still in a good mood. We discuss that we should all get dinner together on our next 24-hour workday.

10:00 pm I’m usually starting to get ready for bed around now so my body is not up for doing anything constructive and I’m not feeling very alert. The mood in the group is still good with lots of chat about what we had for dinner.

2:00 am After the last time point Richa and I watched a movie and I’ve had an hour’s sleep. I’m feeling tired and definitely not alert. I’d forgotten several things like put booties and gloves on but strangely enough this is our fastest time point so far and we finish 10 minutes earlier! I think we went into some automatic mode! There was noticeably less chat as we listened to my playlist of boogie tunes!

6:00 am We went straight to bed* after the last time point, I think we had about 2 hours’ sleep. I’m feeling very tired but know this is the last obstacle between me and my bed. Again, there was minimal talking as we all knuckled down to work. Team Tendon finish up and we leave the building within 50 minutes!

*Whenever I do a 24-hour workday, I set up a camping mat in my boss’s office with my sleeping bag, pillow, blanket and hot water bottle.

Still looking fresh at the last time point, 6am

The rest of yesterday I spent it with multiple short naps as I couldn’t manage to stay awake. I also had a headache all day. However, I still look forward to our next 24-hour workdays. Next one is on Monday! Once the samples are processed and analysed the data we get will help us understand how these tissues are regulated by the circadian clock! So, there are some biological processes that only happen at a certain time during the day and some that never happen simultaneously – Isn’t this fascinating? Why does the clock do that?! Answering these questions could help provide new therapeutics for musculoskeletal injury and ageing. And as Michal said, “How can you not be excited by science?!”*

Sunrise we’re greeted with in the lab when we finish up our 24-hour workday

*Evidence for unwavering excitement for science:

I got the guys to score their tiredness and excitement level (1 = low, 5 = high) and plotted our average for the 24-hour day. As expected, tiredness does increase and excitement does decrease as we work more time points. However, our mean excitement for science does not fall lower than a mid score of 3!

Tiredness v excitement.png
Tiredness and excitement for science during a 24-hour workday

3 thoughts on “24-hour workdays for clock research

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