People living with HIV have a significantly delayed internal body clock, consistent with the symptoms of jet lag, according to new findings reported by researchers from universities in South Africa and the UK.

The findings, which have been published in the Journal of Pineal Research, may explain some of the health problems experienced by people with HIV, and guide research towards improving their quality of life.

Researchers from Northumbria and Surrey universities in the UK and South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and University of Cape Town studied people aged 45 years and above living in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, where nearly one in four people is living with HIV. As such, the infection is endemic and does not associate with any difference in lifestyle.

They found that physiological daily rhythms, as measured by the hormone melatonin, were delayed by more than an hour on average in HIV positive participants. Their sleep cycle was also shorter, with researchers noting that their sleep started later and finished earlier.

This suggests the possibility that HIV infection may cause a circadian rhythm disorder similar to the disruption experienced in shift work or jet lag.

The authors believe that this body clock disruption may contribute significantly to the increased burden of health problems that people living with HIV are experiencing despite successful treatment, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, and psychiatric disorders.

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