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Chronopsychology is the scientific study of the way changes to our daily sleep-waking cycles can adversely influence our ability to work well. It applies mainly to shift workers, but also concerns airline pilots, who regularly move across time zones and who suffer what is grandly called transmeridian dyschronism (jet-lag to you and me). We may try to live in a 24-hour society, but chronopsychological research suggests our biological clocks stubbornly refuse to play ball. It seems that if we deliberately subvert our natural sleep patterns we potentially give ourselves a number of health problems, perhaps even chronic fatigue syndrome, and also reduce our ability to learn new skills. A number of chronopsychological laboratories have been established in various places to study these effects and suggest remedies. As a specialist term, chronopsychology has been around for several years; it seems slowly to be becoming more widely known (fans of M-Flo may recognise it as the title of one of their songs, for example). It has links with chronotherapy, featured here not long ago; the general term for the study of the influence of our body clock on biological function is chronobiology.

“Since a large percentage of industrial employees work shift work, factors such as efficiency, safety and profit need to be understood in relation to the chronopsychological effects,” he said.

Press Release, University of Florida, June 1999

“Anything you care to measure will show a rhythm — hormones, temperature, alertness, immune functions, urine excretion, sodium, potassium,” says Simon Folkard, a chronopsychologist at the University of Wales, Swansea.

New Scientist, June 2000

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 22 Jul. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 22 July 2000.