Elizabeth Klerman, Harvard, Till Roenneberg, LMU, chronobiology, webinar

Copilot Body Clock: How Biology Could Drive the Future of Technology

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In this DLD Sync session, two of the world’s leading chronobiologists put their research into perspective with regard to technology and the future of mobility. Elizabeth Klerman (Harvard Medical School) and Till Roenneberg (LMU Munich) explained what chronobiology is – and why it is vital for all of us to know more about it.

They also gave tips on how to avoid common misconceptions and what you should know about restful sleep and sleeping patterns.

Evolution has given humans an inner clock that used to be in tune with natural rhythms like sunrise and sunset, the researchers pointed out in conversation with DLD founder Steffi Czerny. “We should always consider that everything that goes on in our body is controlled by our very individual biological clock”, Roenneberg says. “And therefore it’s a very important thing to know about.”

But modern work hours and lifestyle choices often interfere with our inner clock. Staying up late to finish a movie, getting up early to rush to the office, flying around half the world and across multiple zones – none of this is healthy from the perspective of a chronobiologist.

“There’s a huge amount of evidence that if you get insufficient sleep, it’s bad for every aspect of your physical, including mental, body”, Elizabeth Klerman says.

Trying to ignore the body’s needs can be downright dangerous, for example when people fall asleep at the wheel. “There are a number of studies that show that lots of accidents happen within two miles of home”, Klerman observes. “People need to recognize that when you need to sleep is not a good time to drive. It might be inconvenient. But it’s better to be alive.”

At some point, autonomous cars may solve this problem. But already engineers should consider making the passenger cabin brighter, Till Roenneberg suggests. “Give the people in the car as much light as possible during the day”, he demands, to help the body clock stay in tune with the day’s natural cycle. “Biology should always be on the mind of the technology builders.”

The discussion also includes benefits of the home office, why it’s bad to stress out over your alarm clock, how astronauts keep a healthy sleep rhythm, and much more. Watch the video, below, to find out.


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Time Topic
0:05 Introduction by Steffi Czerny
4:50 What is chronobiology – and why is it important to know about it?
7:30 Can your body clock stop working? Or is it just out of sync?
12:15 Why there’s no such thing as getting too much sleep.
14:45 What eating and sleeping have in common – and where they differ.
15:55 “Sleep whenever you need to sleep.”
17:50 Dealing with sleep disorders.
19:30 Why sleeping through the night is a fairly new habit.
22:00 How the home office can help improve your sleep.
23:10 Knowing how much sleep you need.
24:20 Trying to take shortcuts on sleep is a bad idea: “Sleep is not taking away from wakefulness. Sleep is making wakefulness possible.”
27:20 Research projects: What Elizabeth Klerman and Till Roenneberg are currently working on.
33:10 Social jetlag and its consequences.
35:30 Does artificial intelligence help evaluate data in sleep research?
38:50 Can the car help you not to fall asleep at the wheel?
44:35 How important is physical fitness to good sleep?
45:55 Designing the car of the future with human needs in mind.
47:40 Drowsiness and a trip to NASA in Texas.
50:40 How do astronauts get proper sleep?
51:35 Why the body clock has 24 hours as well.
53:25 Natural variation: Why organizations need morning types and evening types in their teams.
55:05 Can fitness trackers and smart watches properly measure sleep?
58:00 In search of data: the future of sleep research.


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