Our work and social commitments may be fuelling the obesity epidemic in Western societies, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

Dr Stan Goldstein, Head of Clinical Advisory, Bupa Australia, commented: “Researchers in Europe have found that it’s not only the amount of sleep you get each night, but also the times at which you go to bed and wake up that can affect your weight. Work and social commitments are being blamed for disrupting people’s natural body clock, also known as the circadian clock, and a new term ‘social jetlag’ has been given to explain this disruption. The circadian clock is important in regulating energy metabolism, and the researchers suggest its disruption, as with ‘social jetlag’, may contribute to weight-related problems.

“The researchers found that men and women who used an alarm clock to wake early during the week, therefore interrupting their natural body clock, and then overslept at the weekends or on free days to make up for it, were more likely to have a higher BMI. They argue that living ‘against the clock’ may be a major factor in the growing obesity epidemic.

“Although this study makes for interesting reading, it is difficult to know how the average person could use these findings to make the necessary changes to their everyday life. Most of us have to live by the norms and rules of society, and this includes having to get up in the morning to go to work. Everyone is different when it comes to when and how much sleep they need. However, this study suggests it is more important than we thought to have good sleeping habits. You can do this by establishing a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and waking up around the same time every morning.”

Produced in collaboration with Bupa’s Health Information Team 2012.

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