Last updated January 11, 2018 at 10:31 am
Our internal biological clock is still in tune with the sun, despite the prominence of artificial light and modern social activities, according to new research.
There’s evidence that the blue light from our tech devices keep us up at night and even affects our circadian rhythm, our body’s natural clock. Plus, our daily activity is based around a social clock with work, leisure and school.
But despite all this, researchers have found that the sun still is a key factor in driving our body clock and behaviour. Using a new technique known as “reality mining”, they analyse the use of wireless devices to study human activity patterns.
Using participant’s call times over a year for one million mobile phone users in in southern European country (data use given based on keeping country’s identity unknown). The user’s sleep/wake cycle was inferred from noting when their calling activity started and ceased each day.
Call records revealed that despite a shared time zone (same latitude), the timing of sunrise and sunset at different longitudes still determined the start and end of their daily activities. These start/end times still corresponded with seasonal variations over a year suggesting that solar activity acts as a cue for circadian rhythm.
The research further confirmed that the average mid-sleep time of people can vary with age and gender. As teenagers approached adulthood, they tended to sleep longer. This falls in line with a study from US and German researchers earlier this year showed that teenagers have a later sleep pattern compared to adults. They also confirmed findings that women tended to sleep more than men.
The body clock continues to be an exciting and important area of research. The scientists who discovered the gene that controls the biological clock were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
One of the limitations was the dependency on those that use their mobile phone for phone calls. However, this kind of access to big data from telecommunications continues to be a useful source in social science research.
This research was done to understand the behaviour of people in urban cities.
“The length and timings of human activity periods, specifically in urban areas, has important consequences for human health, economy and power consumption, and public transportation efficiency,” said Daniel Monsivais of Aalto University School of Science, Finland, who led the new study.
“The next step in our study is to use this type of big data approach to understand the difference in behavior between urban and rural populations, as it pertains to the role of social and biological clocks in their daily routines.”
The research was published in PLOS Computational Biology.