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Finnish researchers surprised by impact of sleep routines on mental health

Many people in Finland live their lives according to schedules that don't suit them, according to a study about sleep patterns and their effect on people's lives.

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File photo of sleeping woman holding cell phone. Image: AOP

A Finnish study has found that only a third of participants feel that their personal ability to sleep at certain times match the times they need to wake up to get to school and work.

The study - carried out by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Yle Akuutti, the public broadcaster's health and wellbeing department - found that everyone has an in-born, personal circadian rhythm.

These characteristics, known as chronotypes, are an individual's ability to sleep at particular times of the day.

Schedules that call for early morning alarms do not suit everyone, the study confirmed. Around 12-14 percent of people in the country were found to be more alert during the hours of the evening.

The study's researchers said that ideally, people should be able to decide their own schedules depending on their personal chronotype, but said society is generally better arranged for morning people.

"Morning people reported that their daily routines and schedules suited them twice as often as evening people did," said Mikael Sallinen, program director at the Institute of Occupational Health.

Being more alert in the evening also affects how much sleep night owls get, according to the study. The later a person pushes forward their daily sleep rhythm, the greater their sleep deficits are, according to Sampsa Puttonen one of the researchers behind the study.

"Respondents who said they wanted to delay the start of the day by a couple of hours often suffered from a two-hour sleep deficit," he explained.

Researchers surprised by results

The study's researchers said they were surprised by the close link between psychological well-being and suitable sleep routines are. People with sleep deficits face increased risks of exhaustion, experiencing bad moods and being unhappy with life in general, according to the study.

The root of some psychological problems can be partly explained by sleep deprivation. But the researchers said they found it remarkable that people who are regularly compelled to wake up too early suffered more psychological problems than people who felt they are regularly forced to stay awake too late.

A lack of sleep also contributes to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, metabolism problems, back problems and asthma.

The researchers said that when possible, people should try to follow their own circadian rhythms, even if only during vacations.

The Institute of Occupational Health has called on workplaces - and society in general - to take people's varying sleep rhythms into consideration.

Another of the study's researchers, Ilona Merikanto, suggested that Finland's educational system could examine the issue of sleep and its effects on students.

"Schools should consider if starting at eight o'clock in the morning is really suitable for a teenager," Merikanto said.

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