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Pay No Attention to Socially Agreed Schedules (Best Heed Your Internal Clock)


The term “social jet lag” explains why some people do not fit into the social schedules of the world of work.

From a very young age we are accustomed to waking up very early and we are told it is good for us. “The early bird catches the worm,” goes a popular phrase, albeit one that moralizes. People who go to bed early and wake up early are considered productive and respectable. Those who go to bed late and wake late are lazy and not very productive. But that way of seeing things is changing, fortunately.

Not only is there more evidence to suggest that that view is wrong, but that it is counter productive. Research suggests that the standard 9-6 schedule is antiquated; it reflects an agrarian economy (where everybody had to get up with the crow of the cock) and not globalized knowledge. We all have different biological clocks that tell us at which time of the day we are more lucid and at which we are more confused. The so-called “chronobiology” has found two types of people who are polar opposites: Type A, who wakes up early, even on weekends, and type B, who accumulates social jet lag during the week.

The German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg, in his book Internal Time, popularized the term “social jet lag”; there he explains many things about nocturnal people. ––As many as a third of the population wake up in the middle of their biological night, Roenneberg says. Our daily life is regulated by three clocks. One runs inside our bodies, synchronized with the clock that marks the rotation of the Earth (our days and nights), and more recently we have added another clock, which is the social one.

The social clock on our walls or wrists tells us a certain time, but if we look at an individual’s internal clock it could be completely different. Previously, when people always worked outdoors, it was regulated by sunlight, but now we do not see the sun all the time and our interior clocks have shifted. They have become later and later. So if we sleep when our body clocks are sleepy but we wake up when we have to go to work, much earlier than we would have woken up naturally, we accumulate social jet lag, which is why we sleep as much as we can on weekends to try and make up for the lost slumber.

If we were to carefully listen to what our internal clocks tell us we could improve our well being and even a country’s economy and production. If, for example, work schedules were designed for type A people and others for type B people, we would have a better quality of life because we would work at our natural rhythm.

Some pharmaceutical firms are studying the chronobiology of volunteers to group them as types A and B, and some primary schools are even implementing two schedules during the day for each type of human chronobiology, and the results have been successful. If we want improved production but also better well being and congruency, little by little the world will have to adapt to people’s biological clocks instead of people having to adapt to the social clock, at least in an academic and work environment.

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