Dr.Trinitat Cambras

UB Physiology professor

High time for a change?

Dr Trinitat Cambras Every Monday at 7.10 pm, El Punt Avui TV's English Hour airs the interview series Going Native. This month, Neil talks to UB physiology professor, Dr Trinitat Cambras, about timetable reform.
What is the campaign for timetable reform?
The main goal is to change society's schedules as a basis for achieving a healthier life and increase the feeling of wellbeing. It is an ambitious objective but I think it can be done. The most difficult thing is how to balance work time with personal life.
What is the origin of our timetables in this country?
It only goes back just over 50 years ago, when women practically didn't work and the men had to do two jobs to maintain the family. So, the men would get home from work about two or three, and then start their other job in the afternoon, arriving home late at night.
Why hasn't that changed? Everyone benefits if society's timetables are more in-line with how things are now.
It is first of all a matter of public health, because we are in a vicious cycle. We get home late, so we have dinner late, then the following morning we skip breakfast and go to work again. All of this causes problems and raises the risk of suffering illnesses. This is one side of it, but the other side of timetable reform is to promote other models of organising companies, for instance, adding flexibility in starting and finishing work, more flexibility in taking time off, more compact working days.
How did you get involved?
My field of research is the body's schedules, the study of biological rhythms, mainly cercadian rhythms, which is about how our body clock works. They came to me, because to talk about schedules and their effects on health you need to know how our bodies react
How are current timetables bad for us?
First of all, the statistics say we are sleep deprived. People, and especially children and teenagers, sleep less than they should. This has a lot of consequences, because in the morning they are tired and do not perform as well at school as they would if they had slept well. Often do not have breakfast before leaving the house and have it later, and this is also important because it alters our body's metabolism.
In what other ways is it bad for us?
Lights at night are also a high disturbance for our internal rhythms. Light is good and bad at the same time. Light at night is bad but during the day many children have a lack of light; they are not outside and don't receive much light and this makes it harder for them to go to sleep in the evening. We have to realise that we evolved as an animal species and our planet has great changes between day and night and, therefore, strong changes in light. We can go from great light intensity on sunny days to very dark at night, and our evolution has followed this pattern. But today's society has changed that completely and we have a lack of light during the day and relatively high light at night. This means our circadian rhythms are a bit lost.
Is timetable reform the answer?
The idea is to take care about what you do at the extremes of the day. Having breakfast is good, not eating late is also good. When you study the physiology you see there are lots of hormones that are altered by eating late at night. Our body produces lots of hormones during the day, and at night we produce certain hormones more than at any other time in the day. The reason for this is to help us sleep. For example, at night our body produces a hormone called leptin, which stops us feeling hungry. This is important because if you want to sleep it is not time to feel hungry. But if we don't sleep then this hormone is not produced and we have the tendency to eat more, which means lack of sleep is strongly related to obesity. The most important goal is to increase the feeling of wellbeing and this can be achieved by balancing of our schedules.
It seems ambitious.
Perhaps not. I think the main point is to be aware that schedules matter, and if you know this, you will take more care. Of course, some political decisions would be needed, but the global idea is not impossible. The difficult thing would be reorganising all of the timetables in society from a zero time – the moment we decide we are going to change all of the schedules at once. But politicians can work on this. Schedules are only good or bad in the sense that they fit or not with the things you need to do. If you just want to do one thing all day long you can; there will never be a law that prevents you. For me the most important thing is how to advise people about what is recommended. In this country, it seems as if we are two hours behind compared with other countries. Also, there is a culture here of being physically present that I think will change spontaneously. I say spontaneously because new generations are more aware that they do not have to be in a fixed place in order to do something; they are more aware of new technology. I think this will come anyway with generational changes.
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