Each of us has a biological clock, which, unlike alarm clocks invented by man, cannot be adjusted according to our will. Daylight and darkness are primarily responsible for the body knowing when we should be asleep or awake, however, our social clock, comprised of tight work schedules and daily commitments, often does not respect this biological clock.
A new study published in the journal Current Biology, found that a gap between the biological and social clocks—referred to as “social jetlag”—is present in two thirds of the population of countries with a Western lifestyle, and this lag or differential contributes greatly to the development of obesity, and makes people more prone to smoke, drink alcohol, and use excess caffeine.
In the study, coordinated by Dr.Till Roenneberg, professor at the University of Munich, the researchers analyzed the sleep habits of more than 65,000 adults, and found that people who had significantly different sleep schedules during the week compared with the weekend had problems: they were three times more likely to be overweight than those whose sleep and wake times were consistent throughout the week. And the larger the difference between weekdays and weekends, the greater the risk of obesity.
Roenneberg says “waking up to an alarm clock is something relatively new in our lives.” He also claims that “this means that we do not have enough sleep, and it’s why we are chronically tired. Having a good, adequate night’s sleep is not a waste of time; rather, it guarantees better performance at work and more fun with friends and family during vacations. The ideal would be custom work schedules based on the biological rhythm of each individual, because this way the worker would be more rested, healthier, and certainly more productive.”
To avoid the damage linked to social jetlag, Roenneberg advises spending more time outdoors or at least, when indoors, seeking out locations near windows. Otherwise people are more likely to have sleeping difficulties and daytime fatigue. Experts advise consistent sleeping and waking times throughout the entire week, which helps one obtain the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended for adults. Regular physical activity also improves the overall quality of sleep.
The study data was based on responses to a standardized set of questions, known as the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire. These questions provide detailed information about sleep patterns and other habits during weekdays and weekends, along with information about height and weight. You can see and complete the questionnaire online here.
With their results, the researchers are working on a world map of sleep patterns, which can be taken into consideration when setting work and study schedules, and even adjusts for daylight savings time. They have also produced a video explaining social jetlag and its consequences.
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