Some say Monday blahs are in your internal clock and not all in your mind

January 13, 1992|By Jean Marbella

IT IS THE RUDEST awakening of all.

Monday morning: the one you'd most like to roll over on, pull the sheets over and ignore in the hopes that it will just go away.

"I'm not a morning person, period. But Mondays -- Mondays are rough," said Oscar Robinson, who starts his work week in the chill of 7 a.m., washing the windows of a downtown Baltimore restaurant. "Coffee helps. Knowing I have to do it to make a living for my family helps.

"But," he adds with a good-natured shrug, "it still takes a lot of energy to get out of bed."

For what it's worth -- admittedly not much during those nerve-jangling moments when the alarm jolts you from slumber -- if you're like Robinson, you're not alone. The human species, in fact, is simply not designed to wake up early on Monday.

Your boss may not buy that as an excuse for your tardiness, but specialists in "chronobiology," a field of study that investigates time patterns of various biological functions, say there's a real, physical reason for the Monday morning blahs.

People, if left to their own devices, would follow a 25-hour cycle rather than the 24-hour one imposed by the rising and setting of the sun, scientists say. It's usually not too difficult to reconcile this one-hour difference during the week, but on weekends, people tend to lapse into following what their internal clocks tell them, thus throwing off the usual sleep-wake pattern of the week.

"Since they don't have to get up at their regular time, they will go with the flow of their internal clock and sleep a little later and wake up a little later," said Dr. Thomas Wehr, a research psychiatrist with the National Institute of Mental Health. "They do this on Saturday and Sunday, and by the time Monday rolls around, it becomes the day of reckoning.

"When the alarm rings on Monday, people feel it's not time to get up yet. They're not really physically prepared for it," he said. "It's like waking up in the middle of the sleep period."

"It's like a mini-jet lag," said Timothy H. Monk, a psychologist in the human chronobiology program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "It's like having a clock run slow by about an hour a day, which is fine for Saturday and Sunday, but then Monday comes along and you have to adjust the clock."

No one is sure why our internal clocks are on a 25-hour cycle -- that was discovered by putting people in caves or isolation chambers where they couldn't see the sun rise or set, and observing when they would sleep and awaken, Wehr said. The experiment subjects still followed a regular wake-sleep cycle, and that was measured as about 25 hours long, on the average, he said.

Of course, since the Earth is on a 24-hour cycle, people have had to adjust. "We just have to get up an hour earlier every day of our lives," Wehr said.

Which is a small price to pay, actually: If we insisted on 25-hour days the way our internal clocks would have it, it wouldn't be long before we'd be waking up in the middle of the night, starting work in the midnight hours and sleeping during the bright light of day.

The solution to the Monday morning dilemma is simple -- don't have a weekend, or what is traditionally considered a weekend of late nights and later mornings. Get to bed at your weekday hour and wake up at your weekday hour. In other words: Don't have any fun.

"You can have your fun earlier," Monk suggested.

Even if you want to enjoy alarm clock-free weekends, the damage usually isn't too great; most cases of the Monday morning blahs are fairly minor. You may curse the chill of the floor, burn yourself on the coffee machine, miss a bus or two -- but rarely is it incapacitating.

L But if you are depressed, Mondays can sink you even further.

"Mondays by themselves are not enough to make someone commit suicide," said Dr. J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., director of the Affective Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "But you look at people who are down to their last breath as far as hopelessness for the future, and the prospect of going back to work on Monday can be too much.

"I have a patient for whom Sunday nights and Monday mornings are the worst time for him -- he gets the 'Sunday dreads,' " DePaulo said.

If you truly dread Mondays -- beyond the normal reluctance to get back to a workday schedule -- "maybe this is nature's way of telling you you don't like your job," DePaulo tells some of his patients.

"Getting back to work is fine for me because, most of the time, it's a nice place to work," said Jim Brown, a State Farm Insurance supervisor in Frederick who seemed very chipper indeed last Monday morning during a business trip to Baltimore. "You do get off track a little bit over the weekend, and you have to get into the routine again, but usually it's OK."

Others find it helps to greet the start of the work week with something to look forward to.

"My wife and I sometimes treat ourselves to going out to dinner," said Robinson. "You have to reward yourself for getting up on Monday."

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