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Social jetlag may be what ails you

May 14th, 2012
Staff Writer

Your crazy schedule may be giving you jetlag.Social jetlag is a new term for a condition that may affect a large slice of American society. It’s described in a new report as a syndrome that encompasses the mismatch between the body’s internal clock and the realities of our daily schedules.

While jetlag is that tired, mentally fuzzy, upset-stomach feeling you get from switching several time zones in a matter of hours, social jetlag is similar. But it’s imposed on us daily by crazy schedules, said the author of the study, Till Roenneberg of the University of Munich. The paper was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

"We have identified a syndrome in modern society that has not been recognized until recently," ll Roenneberg said. "It concerns an increasing discrepancy between the daily timing of the physiological clock and the social clock. As a result of this social jetlag, people are chronically sleep-deprived. They are also more likely to smoke and drink more alcohol and caffeine. Now, we show that social jetlag also contributes to obesity; the plot that social jetlag is really bad for our health is thickening."

To understand social jetlag, one has to realize that each person has a biological clock that tells us the optimal times to sleep, rise, exercise, eat, etc. Centuries ago, people followed their biological clocks closely because they could not work at night. But today, Roenneberg said people listen to those clocks "less and less due to the increasing discrepancy between what the body clock tells us and what the boss tells us."

Roenneberg's team is compiling a vast database on human sleeping and waking behavior, which they'll eventually use to produce a world sleep map. After 10 years of research, their analysis shows that people with more severe social jetlag are also more likely to be overweight.

Studies such as this are important to communities’ decisions on such matters as school start times and Daylight Saving Time, he said.

"Waking up with an alarm clock is a relatively new facet of our lives," Roenneberg said. "It simply means that we haven't slept enough and this is the reason why we are chronically tired. Good sleep and enough sleep is not a waste of time but a guarantee for better work performance and more fun with friends and family during off-work times."