The “Social Jet-Lag” phenomenon

If you’re one of the many people who changes their sleeping habits over the weekend, then its impact on your ability to function is probably far greater than you’d imagine. In fact, it’s akin to travelling across several time zones.

This phenomenon, often referred to as “Social Jet-lag” describes the common habit of staying up late on Friday and Saturday nights, and then sleeping in late in the mornings.

Shifting your sleep/wake times in this way, especially if you do so by more than thirty minutes or so, has been shown to have much the same effect on your physical and cognitive function as the jet-lag suffered by long-distance fliers.

Does it matter if you’re a morning or night person?

Of course, it’s true to say that we’re not all the same. There are the natural “owls” amongst us who tend to be at their best at night; whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum, the “larks,” function best in the mornings. However, unless you’re one of the relatively few people who sit at the extreme end of these owl or lark “Chronotypes,” then you still remain liable to suffer the negative effects of shifts in your regular sleep/wake times.

So what are the effects of weekend changes in our regular sleeping habits?

Well, if you slept in late over the weekend, then it’s very likely that you’ll find it very hard to wake up on Monday morning. You’ll have difficulty with attention and vigilance and this is likely to result in more errors, particularly in the work environment.

When it comes to the effects on the body, there have been various published studies on social jet lag which have reported the high prevalence of obesity in people who tend to sleep-in over the weekend. In fact, it turns out that the later you sleep-in, the more obese you’re likelyto be. Also, people who change their schedule by more than an hour or two on the weekend are also more likely to use excessive caffeine, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. They are also more likely to be depressed.

Are there ways to limit the effects of weekend sleep pattern change?

Well, yes, there are things that can be done to at least contain some of the effects.

When it comes to Monday morning under-performance, researchers have said that one measure, where practical, would be to aim for a job that meets your “chronotype”. So, if you happen to be a night owl, a job that would allow you to go in late morning or at midday. If you do shift-work, choosing the second or third shift would most likely work best for you.

For the majority of people, who work in a usual 9-to-5 job, the best option is to limit any shift in your sleep hours during weekends to no more than one hour. You should also avoid using bright light in the evenings or looking at the computer screen late into the evening. This is because both these can shut off your internal melatonin, which then makes it very difficult for you to fall asleep even when you do get to bed. Quiet activities, like reading, as opposed to watching TV (which can also keep you alert), and keep the bedroom cool and dark will help. Finally, whilst most people are aware that late-day caffeine can affect sleep, alcohol does too, so it’s best to avoid that night-cap if you don’t want your sleep interrupted.

What about actually preventing social jet lag? Is this even possible?

For many people with busy, week-day jobs, the weekend is their time to kick-back, watch late night TV, socialise and let their hair down. This means that giving-up their late night weekends and morning lie-ins would affect the quality of their lives.

So, for the large number of people who find themselves in this position, is there anything that can help prevent social jet lag? Well, the answer to this question is yes.

The solution lies in finding a means to re-set the natural body clock or “circadian rhythm.”

What we know from research is that the circadian rhythm is regulated by certain frequencies of light. Exposure to such light, at a time that suits your “chronotype” can effectively “hack” your natural body clock – re-setting it to help optimise your cognitive and physical functioning.

Comedian and TV presenter Noel Fielding using Re-Timer eye frames to help reset the natural body clock (circadian rhythm)

Using light to re-set the body’s natural clock (usually referred to as “light therapy”) has been used for many years to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition in which sufferers experience severe depression in mood as a result of reduced exposure to light in their daily routines. We now know that exposure to the same frequency of light can help to contain and prevent Social Jet-Lag.

Traditionally, people needing light-therapy have had to sit in front of a special lamp or light-box, to obtain exposure to the correct frequency of light. Needless to say, this can be restrictive for the 30-60 minutes of treatment. Fortunately, researchers (most notably from Flinders University, Australia) have developed portable solutions, which deliver the required light frequencies through specialised diodes built into a modified spectacle frame. This enables the wearer to go about their daily activities without the need to confine themselves in front of a light box.

If you are a night owl, these “Re-timer” frames are best worn early in the morning, in order to reset your internal clock and help you fall asleep easily on weekday nights following your weekend.

On the other hand, if you’re a morning person, and so having trouble staying awake in the evening, the light exposure frames should be used later in the day, to reset your clock in the other direction and so help you stay awake and alert longer, as you adjust back into your week-day routine. Morning people would also find it helpful to try maintaining regularity of meals as an additional back-up to circadian clock re-adjustment following the weekend.

Explore more:

To further explore medication-free options to support health, wellbeing and peak performance in study, work and sport, then a good starting poing would be to visit our home page, here. If you’d to specifically explore sleeping aids, including the Re-timer and Propeaq light therapy ttherapy glasses, you’ll find them here

This article was first published here on 15th March, 2018.