The Twenty-Four Inch Gauge and the Circadian Rhythm

Don Lavender, 32°

The twenty-four inch gauge — one of the working tools of Masonry — teaches us to make the best use of our time. In a twenty-four hour period, we learned that eight hours should be devoted to the service of God and a worthy distressed Brother, eight hours in our usual vocation, and eight hours for rest and refreshment.

Early Masons, who determined how to best use their time, may not have known all of the ramifications of the twenty-four hour cycle. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health reveals some remarkable facts about the twenty-four hour internal clock or circadian rhythm as it is known scientifically. This internal clock runs whether we are hungry or full, and whether it is dark or light.

A scientist in the Antarctic, where it is light for months at a time, went to bed when he felt sleepy. He discovered that it was fifteen minutes later each day until the 28th day when "sleepy time" reverted to the usual time and began over again.

Even plants in the dark open and close their leaves at regular intervals. Newborn babies acquire the circadian rhythm within sixteen weeks or less. Birds and lizards that were raised in soundproof rooms with temperature and light control came by the circadian rhythm without ever seeing daylight or any other living creature. Scientists in confinement in caves where there was no light soon adhered to the twenty-four hour internal clock even though their conception of time was flawed.

Attempts have been made to change the cycle to 12, 18 or 48 hours, but those who participated in the experiment became irritable and were error prone.

Jet lag is related to circadian rhythm and results when the normal rhythm is upset. The symptoms, familiar to most travelers, include fatigue, tendency to error and general malaise.

In addition to the circadian twenty-four hour cycle, there are longer cycles known as infradian cycles. The female 29 day cycle is one of these, but men also have a similar cycle which is not as pronounced. The cycle in the male is of similar length and was confirmed by hormonal studies.

Dr. Franz Halberg of the University of Minnesota made some interesting conclusions from his years of study on this subject. Among his findings were the fact that deaths from arteriosclerosis were greatest in January. Accidental deaths were more prevalent in July and August, and suicides greater in May.

Considering, again, the circadian twenty-four hour cycle, Dr. Charles Czeisler of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital determined from his studies that more humans die around six in the morning, more heart attacks and strokes occur around nine in the morning and peak onset of labor in women is between one and seven in the morning.

Both doctors concluded that physical performance is poorest between two and six in the morning and, as a result, there are more one-car accidents during that period.

One study accented the physical variations daily when they gave rats an identical drug dosage at two different times of day. Of the rats given the drug during their active cycle, a high percentage died while those given the same dosage during their rest cycle had only one death out of ten.

Such studies have led to speculation that there may be a day when doctors will maintain a sort of circadian map for every patient. Information in that map would determine the best time for most effective medication or treatment.

Dr. Czeisler has been successful in altering some faulty circadian patterns by use of light — much brighter than average room lighting — applying it scientifically to achieve desired changes. The treatment has been applied to patients suffering from depression, fatigue or sleep disorders.

Although there is still much to be learned, the presence of rhythmic cycles in humans and animals is well established. Our Masonic forefathers, who used the twenty-four inch gauge as a measure to divide wisely our time, may not have known about circadian rhythm, but they certainly recognized the importance of adhering to a schedule for personal well-being.