Have you ever tried to make up for staying late by sleeping in and then you still felt tired? If so, you have probably experienced the effects of social jetlag – a condition associated with weight gain, reduced mental performance and chronic illness. Dr Kenny Pang sheds light on the causes of social jet lag, and why teens are particularly prone to it and how to reclaim control of your sleep.
The rise of social jetlag indicates that many of us have a body clock that is out of alignment, a problem known to negatively impact health and wellbeing. Furthermore, it reminds us that we often treat sleep in a single-minded way. We hope that the quantity of sleep will help address any sleep health concerns – however, social jetlag also makes it clear that it’s not only how much we sleep, but when we sleep, that has a health implication.
What is social jetlag?
As anyone who has experienced normal jetlag will know, one of the most obvious symptoms is trouble sleeping. The body takes a while to adapt to a new time zone – typically a day for every time zone you cross. Similarly, social jetlag and sleep deprivation are practically inseparable.
Social jetlag has nothing to do with flying – it refers to a difference of two or more hours in sleep time between the weekdays and weekends. Essentially it is the habit of having two separate, distinct sleep patterns.
A typical example of individuals with social jet lag would be those who go to bed later than usual on Friday night, sleep in and stay up late the following day, and sleep in again on Sunday morning. As a result, they then have trouble falling asleep on Sunday night and struggle to wake up at the start of the week on Monday. This impacts our sleep debt, confusing our bedtime routine. Like normal jetlag, it is a consequence of being forced to shift our bodies between two time zones: one dictated by work and social obligation, the other by our internal timing system, the circadian clock. It is estimated that two-thirds of us experience at least one hour of social jetlag a week, and a third experience two hours of more.
This vicious cycle of sleeping and waking up late shifts our biological clock and disrupts our circadian rhythm – our internal alarm clock that keeps time by tracking light and darkness.
Melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces in response to darkness that puts us into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep. When we sleep after around 1-2am, this can get messed up.
While social jetlag can affect anyone, teenagers are particularly susceptible to it. According to the Sleep Foundation, teenagers take longer to start producing melatonin and tend to get tired later.
Sleep deprivation affects your mind and body
Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to many of the same illnesses as social jetlag, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.
When we are deprived of sleep, we might doze off or experience microsleep, which are uncontrollable short bursts of sleep that last just a few seconds. Other physical symptoms of social jet lag include trouble sleeping, feeling lethargic and moody, and irritability.
This in turn also affects academic performance, as good sleep habits are key for our brain to perform basic mental tasks. When we are tired and unable to focus, this affects our concentration.
How to battle insomnia?
By practicing good sleep hygiene, you can ensure your body gets the rest it needs. Keeping a sleep journal to take note of the time taken to fall asleep and duration of sleep can help you be more aware of your sleep patterns. You can also try an additional sleep tracker.
Tips for a more restful slumber
- Go to bed around the same time every day to reinforce your circadian rhythm.
- Exercise daily, preferably in the morning. Regular exercise can produce more restful sleep.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool and comfortable.
- Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible.
- Get regular exposure to natural light.
- Keep the bedroom dark at night to facilitate melatonin production.
- Avoid blue light from phones or televisions before bedtime.
- Ensure you keep a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath before going to sleep.
It would be incorrect to assume that a counter to social jetlag would be to have a nice long sleep. Social jetlag creates a negative spiral that needs to be broken and experts propose that you can’t get over it by planning to catch up on lost sleep by having a long lie-in at the weekend. Instead, they suggest that it’s much more effective to try to adopt new sleeping habits and a routine that is aligned with your circadian rhythm.
How can CBD benefit sleep?
CBD may help people relax by easing anxiety and pain, two factors that make it difficult for someone to fall or stay asleep.
The hypothalamus plays a role in several sleep-related functions, including regulating body temperature and synchronising sleep patterns. CBD can help people with insomnia because it works with the hypothalamus to regulate stress, says Dr Whitelocke.
Insomnia results from an overactive stress reaction that’s spilling into a rest time when we’re not trying to process conscious trauma. CBD can suppress this dysregulated cycle of stress hormone overactivation and equalise the sleep and wake cycles through counteracting hormones.
CBD is an ideal tool to calm intrusive thoughts before laying down to sleep. More specifically, CBD acts on the endocannabinoid receptors in the limbic system – a set of brain regions known to play a role in many important functions, including the regulation of emotions, storage of memories, and forming learning patterns.
When the limbic system is out of equilibrium, such as when an intrusive memory leads to anxiety and insomnia, CBD activates the ECS to help repress that memory, and therefore, aid sleep. CBD acts as the great equaliser by restoring hormone balance.