German Spa Town Bad Kissingen Wants to Build Life Around Sleep Patterns

Have you ever heard of the town of Bad Kissingen in Germany? Neither had I — until today — and now I'm thinking I might have to move there. The small spa town of 20,000 people, nestled just south of the Rhön Mountains, has made a commitment to put sleep first. The new project — originally devised by businessman Michael Wieden and chronobiologist Dr. Thomas Kantermann in an effort to make the town stand out from all the other spa towns in Europe — aims to find ways for life to fit around people's natural sleep patterns, rather than the other way around.

We all know that not getting enough sleep is bad for us. It can cause any number of physical and psychological problems, from prematurely aging skin to increasing your risk of cancer. But a healthy sleeping schedule is more complicated than just whether you're getting a full eight hours or not.

Kantermann's specialty at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands is chronobiology, or studying circadian rhythms and the differences in individual sleep patterns. According to a feature on the Bad Kissengen project in the Atlantic, a person's chronotype — their preferred sleep pattern — can have a large bearing on how they feel, how productive they are, and even how healthy they are. Living outside your natural chronotype, for example staying up late at bars when you're a morning person or waking yourself up with an alarm clock when you're a night owl, can be hugely detrimental.

To get the Bad Kissengen project going, the organizers want all of the town's residents to input their sleep data on a special website. Even if you don't live in Bad Kissengen you can still give it a try — I did and they sent me this cool .pdf of my chronotype evaluation.

Eventually, the hope is that schools and medical facilities will start collecting this information too. Although funding is currently low, the will to succeed is there, as the Atlantic reports.

Kantermann is the project’s scientific manager, and in July 2013, he, Wieden, Bad Kissingen’s mayor and town council, and other researchers from the University of Groningen and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich signed a letter of intent. In that letter, they pledged to promote chronobiology research in the town, to “gather results that are directly applicable to living, education, work, well-being, health, mobility, rehabilitation, and sleep.”

The signers have pledged to meet five times per year to discuss the project, and their next planned step is to begin experimenting with lighting in clinics and hotels.

There are all sorts of complications with trying to allow everybody to live by their own sleep patterns. Scheduling conflicts make it impossible to dramatically change school start times to accommodate teenagers' late chronotype, but studies have shown even minor changes can have a significant impact.

Taking on board just a few of Kantermann's suggestions, such as scheduling important tests in the afternoon and attempting to spend more time outdoors in the morning, could help to make life a whole lot less sleepy.

Images: leahkonen/tumblr, fallenforpayne/tumblr