Despite the fact that more and more people are returning to their normal pre-pandemic work activities, a large part of the population continues under the new regime imposed by the need for isolation to contain the spread of the coronavirus: there are those who work from home, those who They have not yet been able to resume their tasks, while many of those who returned to their jobs in person do so at different times. The routines that organized our days before March 20 no longer exist or were modified and that has an impact on the biological clock: a national survey seeks to measure its scope with the aim of developing guidelines that help regulate it.
“My Internal Clock” is an investigation that seeks to study how activity and rest rhythms are affected during the confinement associated with the pandemic. The survey, which can be answered by any inhabitant of the country from 13 years old and up, consists of 41 questions, takes about 20 minutes and can be accessed online or by phone.
A plus: those who participate, if they wish, will be able to access an evaluation of their chronotype (owl or lark, according to their preferences), prepared by researchers from different universities and institutions that lead the initiative that is part of the “Chronobiological challenges” project. associated with social isolation ”, which is funded by the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation, which reports to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mincyt).
The scientists working in the research aim to obtain at least 1,500 complete questionnaires in the next month and a half, which will allow them to draw conclusions that will be necessary for the development of an application (app) that “will help the population to adequately inform themselves about their circadian clock and how their habits interfere with their optimal functioning, as well as the consequences that this entails, “says Fernanda Ceriani, head of the Behavioral Genetics Laboratory at the Fundación Instituto Leloir (FIL) and researcher at Conicet.
The app is already under development, reported from the CyT-Leloir Agency. It will allow users to make a self-diagnosis and, based on the results obtained, they will receive specific recommendations to improve their chronobiological habits.
To reach that diagnosis, through a cell phone sensor, the application will measure light in different spaces in the house. In addition, “it will consult on the schedules in which the person falls asleep and wakes up, will evaluate the duration and quality of the dream, and will ask about schedules of other activities, such as physical exercise and dinner, for example,” clarifies Paula Cramer, PhD in Biological Sciences, communication specialist and benchmark of the Network of Science Clubs of the Mincyt, representing the team that also includes Lia Frenkel, researcher at Conicet, FIL and the Institute of Biosciences, Biotechnology and Translational Biology ( IB3) that depends on the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of the UBA; and María Juliana Leone, PhD in Basic and Applied Sciences, researcher at CONICET at the National University of Quilmes and at the Torcuato Di Tella University.
“The results and conclusions we obtain from the survey will guide us to better know what are the key parameters to evaluate with the application of the cell phone,” added Cramer.
The proper functioning of the biological clock is key to health, since it regulates and orders the physiology (functions and mechanisms of the organs and tissues) at the appropriate times of the day. To function properly it needs sunlight, which allows it to distinguish between day and night, which structures sleep schedules, habits and physiological rhythms.
Mandatory Preventive Isolation (ASPO) changed routines and reduced exposure to natural light and, in return, increased exposure to artificial light at night is added.
Our internal clock requires sunlight to distinguish between day and night and thus order sleep schedules, daily habits and the rhythms of physiology throughout the day. To this condition is added excessive exposure to artificial light at night.
“The combination of these situations is adverse for the circadian clock, and can lead to other health problems including diabetes, reduced defenses, insomnia, depression, and other metabolic and cognitive disturbances,” explains Frenkel.
The researchers maintain that, at the moment, the side effects that confinement will have on the internal clock are unknown, nor if they impact differently depending on age, sex or other intervening factors. The survey will help begin to answer those questions, they say.
-What interventions can we do to regulate our circadian clock? Can it be achieved even while minimizing exits to the outside?
Yes, we believe that it is possible to achieve it even without leaving. For the watch to work properly, the body must perceive when it is day and when it is night. Natural morning light, even light coming through a window, can set the clock. On the other hand, it is important to avoid or at least reduce exposure to the bright screens of cell phones, computers and televisions at night time because this disorients this mechanism. It is also useful to follow routines at regular times: it can be work, study or hobby activities. The important thing is that we organize them at predictable times.
-What is the weight of physical activity and food on the circadian clock?
Physical activity and healthy eating are always beneficial. Regarding our circadian rhythms, the important thing is to carry out physical activity frequently and at regular times, avoiding two hours before sleeping so that it does not affect rest. Regarding food, the recommendation is the same regarding schedules: try to be regular and avoid heavy meals at night to avoid adverse effects on our sleep and circadian rhythms.