Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time

Marc Wittmann, Jenny Dinich, Martha Merrow, Till Roenneberg
Chronobiology International 2006, 23 (1-2): 497-509
Humans show large differences in the preferred timing of their sleep and activity. This so-called "chronotype" is largely regulated by the circadian clock. Both genetic variations in clock genes and environmental influences contribute to the distribution of chronotypes in a given population, ranging from extreme early types to extreme late types with the majority falling between these extremes. Social (e.g., school and work) schedules interfere considerably with individual sleep preferences in the majority of the population. Late chronotypes show the largest differences in sleep timing between work and free days leading to a considerable sleep debt on work days, for which they compensate on free days. The discrepancy between work and free days, between social and biological time, can be described as 'social jetlag.' Here, we explore how sleep quality and psychological wellbeing are associated with individual chronotype and/or social jetlag. A total of 501 volunteers filled out the Munich ChronoType Questionnaire (MCTQ) as well as additional questionnaires on: (i) sleep quality (SF-A), (ii) current psychological wellbeing (Basler Befindlichkeitsbogen), (iii) retrospective psychological wellbeing over the past week (POMS), and (iv) consumption of stimulants (e.g., caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol). Associations of chronotype, wellbeing, and stimulant consumption are strongest in teenagers and young adults up to age 25 yrs. The most striking correlation exists between chronotype and smoking, which is significantly higher in late chronotypes of all ages (except for those in retirement). We show these correlations are most probably a consequence of social jetlag, i.e., the discrepancies between social and biological timing rather than a simple association to different chronotypes. Our results strongly suggest that work (and school) schedules should be adapted to chronotype whenever possible.

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