Could COVID-19 eliminate the alarm clock?

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Science Translational Medicine  20 Jan 2021:
Vol. 13, Issue 577, eabg4723
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abg4723


Social restriction due to COVID-19 relieves social jet lag.

Like our cave-dwelling ancestors, we maintain self-sustaining 24-hour behavioral oscillations termed circadian rhythms. Prominent among circadian behaviors is the human sleep-wake cycle. Contrary to the natural light-dark cycles under which the human sleep cycle evolved, the social constructs of our modern life do not always align with these internal 24-hour cycles, leading to a discrepancy between our internal and external rhythms, called social jet lag (SJL). SJL is the reason that most of us need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to study SJL as working from home, and more flexible office hour policies shielded people from the social time pressures (STPs) that lead to SJL, like needing to be at work before we would naturally be waking up. Using the Global Chrono Corona Survey, Korman et al. assessed daily behaviors pre- and post-COVID-19 social restrictions (SRs), including the duration of sleep and the amount of SJL. They found that during SR, STPs decreased, sleep increased, and there was a substantial decrease in SJL. They even noted a decrease in the use of an alarm clock during SR.

There were some downsides to SR, including a decrease in time spent outdoors and therefore exposure to natural light, which has been shown to have a positive effect on both SJL and mental health. However, this study showed that the social pressures of a modern lifestyle can substantially affect SJL, which disrupts our circadian rhythms. As the disruption of circadian rhythms is known to increase the risk for a host of diseases, this research highlights how flexibility in work schedules presents an avenue to better health. Better still, this study highlights that relief from STPs may help you get rid of your alarm clock for good.

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