Are you suffering from social jetlag?

There’s nothing better than a Saturday morning snooze. As 7am comes and goes, you snuggle under the doona and catch-up on some much-wanted sleep.

But while a lie-in can be utter bliss (for those of us who aren’t schlepping kids to sport), those extra hours in bed may actually be doing you more harm than good, giving you a hangover that has nothing to do with those Friday night Proseccos.
Experts have dubbed the phenomenon “social jet lag”, describing the time difference experienced between sleep patterns on days off compared to work days. The symptoms are similar to actual jet lag caused by travelling between time zones.

Researcher Sierra Forbush led a team at the University of Arizona which made some startling findings. “By measuring social jet lag, we found that sleep regularity, beyond sleep duration alone, plays a significant role in our health,” she says. “This suggests that a regular sleep schedule may be an effective, relatively simple and inexpensive preventative treatment for heart disease, as well as many other health problems.”

Sierra’s interest in sleep and health was sparked by her own personal experience of attending an 8am science lab on Monday mornings after weekend sleep-ins and regularly suffering migraines by the evening. “The most surprising findings of the study were that each hour of social jet lag was associated with quite a pronounced increased likelihood of good and fair/poor health rather than excellent health (22.1 percent and 28.3 percent, respectively) and, more specifically, 11.1 percent increased likelihood of heart disease,” Sierra explains. “Social jet lag also was associated with poorer health, worse mood, and increased sleepiness and fatigue.”

Robert Colvile, author of The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster, reckons modern living has a lot to answer for. “This is partly a symptom of what I call ‘the great acceleration’ – the speeding up of everyday life, driven largely by technology. The great acceleration has nudged our bodies out of sync with the day/night cycle ,” says Robert. “The result is social jet lag. We live at ‘work o’clock’, wrenching ourselves back to normal at weekends.”

Sound familiar? Us too! But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s are four ways to avoid feeling sluggish all week.

Let there be light

With travel jet lag, your body can reset according to the sunset and sunrise in the new destination. So for social jet lag, exposure to natural daylight is key. Aim to walk outside for at least 30 minutes (and don’t forget the sunscreen).

Stick to a routine

The closer you can keep to a regular schedule the better. But researcher Till Roenneberg, PhD says there has to be a balance between the issues caused by social jet lag and problems linked to sleep deprivation – let’s be honest, most people who get up at 6am for work do it because they have to, not because they want to.

Limit screen time

The negative impact of screen time before bed time is well documented. At the very least, says Roenneberg, change the settings on your electronics so they don’t give off blue light - the most effective wavelength for adjusting the circadian clock. Activate “nightmode” on iPhones – it uses a yellow filter to limit blue light emissions.

Make work, work for you

In an ideal world, Roenneberg says, attitudes toward sleep would change allowing professional schedules to align with our biological clocks. “Our work times need to be much more flexible,” he says. “It’s much better to leave the work times up to the individual.” Until then, consider how your job, commute and shift work may be impacting your life and whether there’s an alternative option.

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