Katy Guest: 'Social jetlag' just confirms it - modern life makes us ill

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The Independent Online

I'm generally sceptical of blinding new insights from Universities of the Bleeding Obvious, but every so often a study is published that gives crucial scientific weight to what we all instinctively know. So congratulations not only to the doctors at Harvard Medical School who studied 4,000 obese adults and came up with the "Not Rocket Science Diet" (eat less fat and exercise more), but also to the team of researchers from Munich University who contributed further evidence last week to a growing hypothesis: modern life is rubbish, and it's making us ill.

The team, led by Dr Till Roenneberg, has identified a "social jetlag" syndrome. This is not a condition suffered by Tory prime ministers when they have to switch on a sixpence from a kitchen supper with media titans to eating pasties with plebs. Rather, it is the news that the increasing discrepancy between our biological clocks and our overworked schedules is leading to "chronic" sleep-deprivation, which leads to obesity and the consumption of more cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine. This isn't just saying that people who go to bed late are likely to drink more coffee; it's saying that going to work before dawn and sitting in an artificially-lit workplace until home time in darkness interferes with the natural rhythms that keep us all sane. Crucially, it means that I may be clinically unable to leave my desk when I finish writing this without going straight to the pub via an enormous lamb jalfrezi.

Dr Roenneberg and his team have been studying sleeping and waking behaviour for 10 years, and published this latest research in Current Biology. "We listen to those [biological] clocks less and less," he explains, "due to the increasing discrepancy between what they tell us and what the boss tells us." The journal did not report what time Dr Roenneberg arrives in the lab, or whether he allows his team to go home early when they get dangerous cravings for a fag and a bag of chips, but he seems to me like the type of boss who takes the body's internal clock seriously.

His advice to sufferers of social jetlag is to spend more time outdoors in daylight, or, failing that, sit by a window. But, in winter, I'd guess he probably tucks his team up in bed at 4pm, and on overcast days I like to think that he reads them a story.

Once one becomes aware of social jetlag, it's tempting to attribute all sorts of bizarre events to its hidden effects. Last week's news that Dixons' Harrods branch has for sale a £600,000, 152in, 3D Panasonic TV is the culmination of a long process of home-furnishing insanity that must surely have something to do with social jetlag. Perhaps the buyers of monster TVs are desperately trying to absorb more light by surrounding themselves with all those LCDs.

It also must explain why David Cameron signed off texts to Rebekah Brooks with "LOL", meaning "lots of love" (until she told him most people interpret this as "laugh out loud"). However you look at it, he must have been seriously chronically fatigued to think that was a good idea. He ought to go and sit beside a window. A very high one would do.