Pioneering study looks at sleep behavior of Filipinos

Published by rudy Date posted on April 5, 2010

Scientists are looking for the first time at the sleeping habits and its health effects on Filipinos, especially shift workers.

Their work on sleep-wake behavior and its relations to the body clock has deep implications for mostly young workers in call centers that blaze in lights all night long.

These scientists say that studies abroad have shown that shift work is associated with increased susceptibility to heart diseases and even cancer.

“Business process outsourcing is most dynamic in the Philippines, the call center capital of the world,” said Eduardo R. Mendoza who heads the Systems Biology Group at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. “It is important that we apply recent biomedical insights to minimize the health risks linked with shift work”

“ClockWork, a five-year study with factory shift workers in Germany that we have just concluded will benefit the shift workers here as it will help design work schedules compatible with their internal clocks,” said Mendoza who is also an adjunct professor at the Department of Computer Science and the Institute of Mathematics at the University of the Philippines Diliman. “Our project PhilSHIFT will build on ClockWork’s results and adapt its approaches to the Philippine BPO conditions.”

Before doing that, researchers need to know the sleep-wake behavior of Filipinos in general and are encouraging the public to answer a questionnaire online at http://www.bioinfo.mpg.de/thewep/. Once logged in, click “View My Projects” under the Projects tab and choose PhilMCTQ.

MCTQ stands for the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire which researchers at the UP Manila College of Allied Medical Professions and College of Medicine will use for the PhilSHIFT study.

Mendoza, who is here as a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Balik Scientist, initiated the study that brings together researchers at UP, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University and the University of Sto. Tomas with colleagues at the Center for Chronobiology at Mendoza’s Munich university which has done pioneering research on sleep and shift work.

According to Dr. D. Darwin A. Dasig of the UP Manila College of Medicine, the lead research institute for PhilSHIFT, increased susceptibility to cancer, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal complaints is largely attributed to the circadian clock being dysfunctional among shift workers.

Researchers cite the conclusion of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that “shift work that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The Journal of Epidemiology, for example, reports that in Denmark, women who work mainly at night for at least six months are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who work regular hours. The reason may be that cells divide at the wrong time when people work at night.

The goal of ClockWork, which was funded by the Daimler Benz Foundation and involved companies such as Siemens and Volkswagen, was to work out what type of schedules are healthiest for the individual’s biological clock, devise strategies that minimize shift work-induced health risks and optimize shift work schedules that increase wellbeing, performance and productivity while decreasing health costs.

Later this year, the PhilSHIFTstudy will include call center workers, said Mendoza, a BS Math magna cum laude of the University of Heidelberg whose current research focuses on computational systems biology and the theory of complex systems.

At a recent meeting organized by DOST and the Department of Trade and Industry, the Call Center Association of the Philippines and the Business Processing Association of the Philippines agreed to cooperate in the study to minimize health risks and improve work productivity.

“We need to know the chronotype of the Filipino,” said one of the lead researchers, Maria Eliza S.D. Ruiz Aguila, a professor at the UP Manila College of Allied Medical Professions.

The chronotype is the timing at which a person’s biological clock synchronizes to the 24-hour day. It is measured using the MCTQ as the midsleep or halfway point between the start of sleep and waking up on free days.

“This is important because if the midsleep is not in accord with our social clock, the time for example when we go to work, then we might have difficulty at work,” Aguila explained.

The most frequent chronotype – reflected by studies in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands – sleeps on average between 9 minutes past midnight and 8:18 a.m.

Children are generally earlier chronotypes, progressively becoming later during development, reaching a maximum in “lateness” at around age 20 and earlier again with increasing age. People over 60 years old, on average become even earlier chronotypes than when they were children.

Researchers want to know how it is with Filipinos before looking at call centers – for a start – and gauge what is ideal for shift workers.

“The MCTQ questionnaire will determine the Filipino chronotype and how it is influenced by social schedules,” said Aguila.

“Most local studies on shift workers examine external factors like workplace conditions or physical complaints like muscle pains while doing desk work. This study goes beyond sleeping or the lack of it,” Aguila said. “We are interested on the person’s sleep-wake behavior, how work schedules affect sleep-wake patterns and work performance and the sense of well-being.”

“We know that individuals differ in their activities, such as the time people prefer to go to bed and wake up,” said Dasig, the study’s principal investigator. “While this individual variation has been described for other populations, there is no such data for Filipinos.” –PAUL ICAMINA, Malaya

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