Monday, July 17, 2006

Twenty-First Century Renaissance May Depend Upon Humans Adjusting Their Work Lives To Their Biological Clocks

"Half the people in modern urban societies suffer from “social jet lag” because their body clocks are seriously out of step with their real lives, the Euroscience forum in Munich heard on Monday.

The result was chronic fatigue and an increased susceptibility to disease, researches found. They concluded that employers should tell staff to wake up in their own time and come in to work when they feel ready to.

Till Roenneberg, a circadian rhythm researcher at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, coined the phrase “social jet lag” after a survey of 40,000 people in Germany and Austria – and a more detailed follow-up study of 500 – showed a persistent mismatch of at least two hours between their biological clocks and the demands of their jobs or education.

The reason, according to Prof Roenneberg, is that humans evolved to live out of doors, where full daylight constantly resets their internal clocks. In the absence of strong light, the body clock has a running period longer than 24 hours per day. Interior light levels are hundreds of times lower than daylight, he said, “so we lose our main signal for locking onto external time”.

“During the working week many people with office jobs spend only 10 or 15 minutes per day outside, with no roof over their head,” said Prof Roenneberg. Public transport operators could help by ordering buses and trains with glass roofs, to give commuters maximum daylight on the way to and from work.

He told the meeting it was simple to detect an individual’s “chronotype”, which showed how well or badly his or her internal clock was attuned to the external world. ...

Biological clock researchers say society as a whole pays far too little attention to the stresses caused by the mismatch between modern life and the ancient human body clock.

“It is extraordinary how we marginalise internal time,” said Russell Foster of Oxford University. “Part of the answer lies in better education. In many medical schools today, a future doctor might receive just one lecture about sleep and the circadian rhythm in the course of a six-year medical education.”

Employers and schools could do a lot to help, by adjusting their working hours, said Martha Merrow of Groningen University in the Netherlands. “Schools should open later; I think 10am would be sensible but no one wants the inconvenience of making the change.”

According to Prof Roenneberg, “those people who suffer the least social jet lag are late types who can choose their own working times. Employers should say: ‘Please wake up in your own time and come in when you are ready.’”

Clive Cookson "‘Social jet lag’ causes fatigue and illness" Financial Times July 17, 2006

The upper canal at Falkirk Wheel holds of boat full of tourists [and future commuters] waiting to be lowered into the canal below.

Photo credit: © 2002-2006, Scott Haefner. Kite Aerial Photography by Scott Haefner. With thanks.


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