Barry McNamara  |   Published October 04, 2017

‘The watch that keeps time in our brains’

Nobel Prize biological clock research applies to all at Monmouth College, says Godde
MONMOUTH, Ill. – James Godde sees the biological clock at work in several ways in his roles at Monmouth College.

“Being a biologist, I’m very interested in the way our biological clocks work,” said Godde of what has been called “the watch that keeps time in our brains.”

Three Americans won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for discovering key genetic “gears” of the body’s 24-hour biological clock, the mechanism best known for causing jet lag when it falls out of sync.

“There are applications of this Nobel Prize-winning research for everyone on our campus,” said Godde. “Understanding it is really important to daily life in college. We all have different clocks. Personally, I never have to set an alarm to wake up. I would hazard to guess that’s not normal for most of our students, though.”

The Monmouth professor regularly encounters the biological clock in his role as the College’s coordinator of off-campus study, not to mention as an astute observer of students who’ve pulled an all-nighter to cram for a test.

“Our biological clock causes jet lag for those who travel, because our body’s clocks haven’t caught up yet with the reality in our new location,” said Godde, who has led Monmouth students on international trips to Southeast Asia, the Galápagos Islands and other locations. “The good news is, like any clock, you can reset your biological clock. If you find yourself in daylight, expose yourself to daylight, even though your body might think it’s the time you usually go to bed. You’ve got to get set again.”

Researchers are now trying to find ways to tinker with the clock to improve human health, the Nobel committee said in Stockholm. It awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine to Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash, who worked together at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and Michael W. Young of Rockefeller University in New York.

Their research helped expose the molecular details behind daily rhythms, and such knowledge can be important for many reasons, such as telling when to deliver drugs for maximum effect.

One of the Nobel Prize recipients believes patients will benefit.

“(It) gives you a chance, not an inevitability, but a chance to influence the internal workings of the clock and possibly to improve a patient’s well-being,” Hall was reported as saying.

It wasn’t a part of the Nobel-winning research, but Godde said he believes that younger people can reset their clocks quicker than older folks.

It’s not 100 percent scientific, but the well-traveled Godde observed, “The older I’ve gotten, the more that traveling across lots of times zones kicks my butt. … There’s no great solution. The worst thing to do is give in and sleep when it’s daytime in your new location. You’ve got to get in sync with things in the new time zone.”

Although younger people can bounce back more quickly, Godde cautioned that the temptation to deliberately mess with one’s clock is ill-advised.

“Students who have a test coming up think, ‘I’ll pull an all-nighter to study, and I’ll do better.’ But your biological clock says ‘No!’ It’s better to plan ahead and get a good night’s sleep. Your mind will work better,” he said. “They’ve found that staying up all night is not an effective way to study.”
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