Social jet lag: how to make waking up easier during the week

Georgia Brown

From Harper's BAZAAR

Mornings are a subject of fascination within the health and wellness world. While some women rise sub-6am and smash out a workout, others need an espresso to make it to a 10am meeting.

But it turns out larks and night owls alike can get more out of their mornings, by making just one simple tweak to their routine.

Offering their expert advice on the podcast this week were Adrienne Herbert, personal trainer and host of the Power Hour podcast, and leading sleep scientist Dr Sophie Bostock.

Asked about the one thing we can all do to feel more rested in the morning, Dr Bostock had this to say: "We want to try to avoid what has been coined “social jet lag”. And if it sounds like something you need to get on a plane to experience, it isn’t."

What is social jet lag?

"This is when you have a big gap between what happens during the week and the weekends," Dr Bostock explains. Even those of us who have a regular routine five days of the week are at risk of putting our biological processors out of sync at the weekend if we stay up – or wake up – later than usual.

"You basically get jet lag. If you have a transition in your sleep routine that is more than an hour from day to day, your body will start to feel the effects – as some of your bodily processors, such as your gut, will start to function at a different time to your sleep-wake cycle. So you’ll feel sluggish or unwell."

Indeed, a 2017 study published in the journal American Academy on Sleep Medicine found social jet lag to be linked with poorer health, worse mood and increased fatigue.

How can you avoid it?

It almost seems contradictory. You’re told sleep is pivotal to your wellbeing. Yet, getting too much of it by sleeping in at the weekend can have a negative effect on your health, too. So what can you do to swerve this?

Beyond waking up at a similar time every day, Dr Bostock explains that the best thing you can do for your sleep, is to sync your internal body clock with the environment.

Photo credit: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury - Getty Images

"If you’re sleeping in for much of the day and missing out on the energising power of daylight, there’s really good evidence that you’re at increased risk of various illnesses including depression, anxiety."

She continues: "But if you’re active during daylight hours and inactive and resting when it’s dark outside, then everything in your body has a good chance of being in-sync with each other, all your biological processors are working really well together."

What if you don't work the usual 9-5?

All very well if you work a nine-to-five. Not so great if you do shift work. If this is you, Dr Bostock has this advice: "Be really protective over your sleep – so that’s making sure your bedroom is as dark as possible and ensuring you’re not going to be disturbed by noise."

Still feeling groggy in the mornings? The experts also shared their tips on how they get themselves out of bed in the morning.

"It’s really difficult to be disciplined with your bedtime – there’s always something you could faff with for an extra 20 minutes," reveals Herbert. "I’m so strict with myself when it comes to my bedroom routine now. I’m like a child. At 9.30, everything goes off, by 9.45 I’m in bed and by 10pm I’m asleep."

For Dr Bostock, it’s the way she wakes her body up in the morning that helps her to feel alert. "I’m a big fan of light alarm clocks that gradually come on 30 minutes before your wake up time," she reveals.

"I have one that I’ve set to a flashing light. That is a really strong stimulus to the receptors on the back of your eye that it’s time to wake up."

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