In a picturesque Bavarian spa town, an ambitious and intriguing experiment is underway.
The unlikely location for this civic project is Bad Kissingen, just south of the Rhon mountains in Germany.
Led by Dr. Thomas Kantermann of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the project aims to improve the health of its 20,000 citizens and 250,000 annual visitors by restructuring civic life around the importance of sleep.
Hoping for Bad Kissingen to be the first “ChronoCity” in the world, the team have since been taking small but confident steps towards translating scientific research on sleep health into practical changes and applications with the potential to better align Bad Kissingen’s school and work schedules with its residents’ natural sleep needs.
The central tenet of the Bad Kissingen project is that each person has a unique “chronotype,” or a preferred sleep pattern.
According to Dr. Kantermann, living outside of your chronotype can be hazardous to one’s health, promoting medical problems including obesity, depression, and even cancer.
But modern life often conflicts with chronotype, with issues such as shift work, early mornings, late nights in bars, and artificial lighting all playing a factor when it comes to maintaining a regular, healthy sleep schedule.
Big ideas, small steps
The Bad Kissingen project aims to address these types of issues by looking at both behavioral and environmental causes of sleep disturbance.
One of the goals is to gather sleep data for the whole town to better meet the needs of all the citizens. The blueprint also includes a number of proposals to promote better health through sleep.
These include optimising the city’s urban lighting scheme, changing work and school times, improving conditions for shift workers and hospital patients.
Whilst the plans are still in their infancy, the project has backing from the mayor, the town council and with Kantermann as the chief scientific officer, all parties have signed a letter of intent to “gather results that are directly applicable to living, education, work, well-being, health, mobility, rehabilitation, and sleep.”
If successful, it is hoped that Bad Kissingen could become a world’s first – a role model for other cities in optimizing public health through sleep science and improving the overall productivity and happiness of their citizens.
While optimistic and passionate about the endeavor, Dr. Kantermann and his team are being realistic about establishing the first ChronoCity.
The project needs more financial backing and sleep-centric urban design could face resistance from the radical changes it will demand of the town and its inhabitants.
Further down the line, spreading the gospel of the Chronocity to other countries and continents may be an even bigger challenge. Variations in sleep habits between different countries might conflict with the strategies used in Bad Kissingen.
Although the Chronocity model proposed by Bad Kissingen is an exciting and revolutionary step towards integrating sleep science into public health and public planning, the project will require many years and dedicated contributors before coming to fruition.
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Disclosure: Ms. Uno has no relevant financial or nonfinancial relationships to disclose.
I’m a medical student from California who loves chinchillas, horror, science fiction, and dance. I am a reformed night owl and am interested in psychiatry, neurology, and sleep medicine. I am immune to nightmares about ghosts, zombies, and monsters, but only because instead I dream about medical school.