You don’t need to be a jet-setter to suffer from jet lag, according to a new study, which suggests that “social jet lag’ is messing up everyone’s body clocks.
For the uninitiated, it’s the name given to the phenomenon where our circadian rhythms become out of sync when we get to the weekend or go on holiday.
This is because we tend to stick to a decent sleep routine during the week (for work) and then stay up later and sleep in on the weekends, which basically has the same kind of effects as jet lag, but without you leaving the country. And it’s not great news for health, with previous studies linking social jet lag to obesity and depression.
One study found that people with different weekday and weekend sleep schedules had triple the odds of being overweight.
For this new study, researchers measured social jet lag in people all over the US by analysing their Twitter activity. There were some interesting findings: people with early commute start times had greater social jet lag, while university students didn’t. This might be because there is reduced weekday pressure on the schedule of students, researchers said. That’ll be those lie-ins, then.
Changes in the seasons also impacted on social jet lag, with people feeling the effects far less in summer, possibly because schedules change to tailor to the school holidays. February appeared to be the worst time for feeling it.
So should we be worried about social jet lag? And is there anything we could be doing to prevent it?
The obvious answer is to stick to a regular sleeping pattern throughout the week and weekend, so you continue going to bed and getting up at the same time. Enabling the ‘Bedtime’ feature on your smartphone could help you with this.
Lisa Artis, sleep advisor at the Sleep Council, told HuffPost UK a regular bedtime is especially advisable for people who are poor sleepers, as your body clock will tune in to that regular routine.
“But for people who are good sleepers, there’s no need to really overthink it and worry about it too much,” she said. “If you’re a good sleeper, the odd late night or the odd lie-in isn’t going to do any harm.”
The key to a good night’s sleep, according to Artis, is not overthinking it or becoming anxious at bedtime. Worrying about your sleep pattern is not conducive to a good night’s kip.
“You want to be in a calm, relaxed state before bed,” she said. Switching off your gadgets, reading a good book, practising mindfulness and listening to soothing music are all advised.
[Read More: How To Make Your Bedroom A Relaxing Sleep Haven]
“I think it’s important people make that time to wind down,” she added.
Also be aware of the environment you’re sleeping in: a good-sized comfortable bed and a cool room that’s properly dark is the ultimate sleep haven.
As for the study? Researchers believe their findings could prompt an improvement in school schedules and work schedules, so they can be matched to people’s circadian rhythms, “helping to optimise performance in an increasingly ‘round-the-clock’ work culture”.