Have you ever come back from a relaxing break abroad to find yourself feeling more tired and lethargic than before you left? Big boozy weekends and adventure holidays aside, your unshakeable sluggishness could be due to what experts are calling ‘social jet lag’.
The idea behind this condition is that during periods of free time people tend to relax their sleeping patterns - allowing themselves later nights because they don’t have to be up at the crack of dawn, as well as treating themselves to a well-deserved lie-in in the morning. Enjoyable and quite often oh-so necessary, the problem with this ‘free-running’ of our sleep cycle is that it can completely throw our internal body clock out of sync, leaving people suffering with the same symptoms and problems associated with regular jet lag.
To help see if it’s possible to put an end to this cycle of sleepiness we reached out to GP Dr Anita Sturnham who’s answered a quick-fire Q+A on the questions surrounding this drowsy dilemma.
What is social jet lag?
“Social jet lag is the term used to describe the difference in someone's sleep patterns between work days and free days. An example of this would include someone having a lie-in at the weekend.”
What causes social jet lag?
“Research has suggested that regularly disrupting our sleep patterns could upset our body clock (also known as circadian rhythms), which could then have a harmful effect on our health.”
What are the main symptoms of social jet lag?
“Social jet lag may lead to extreme fatigue, poor concentration, reduced memory function and reduced daytime vigilance. You may find it difficult to concentrate on tasks at work or home efficiently for example. Studies have also found that people with social jet lag may have disturbed sleep and may be more prone to suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.”
What are the consequences of social jet lag?
“The concerns are that chronic social jet lag may disrupt the body's immune system and lead to an increased risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, in the same way that actual jet lag can."
There have been links between social jet lag and weight gain - are these true? If so how serious are they?
“The main study cited in the press about social jet lag was carried out by researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC). It looked at the association between obesity, metabolic markers and social jet lag. The researchers suggest that social jet lag may increase the risk of a condition called metabolic syndrome, which is a medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. The researchers also suggest that those with higher social jet lag were found to have a higher self-reported body mass index (BMI).
“However, this study data was not statistically significant, which means we can’t reliably use the research. Many experts feel that this research does not prove regular lie-ins cause obesity or obesity-related diseases. There were many underlying factors that this study has not taken into account. For example, the study did not take account people's diets or their exercise levels, which are two key factors that influence BMI and may also influence our sleep patterns.”
What methods can be taken to help reduce the occurrence of social jet lag?
“Experts tend to agree that to reduce the risk of social jet lag you should aim to have a regular sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends to prevent sleep problems. Overall, the existing studies provide no proof that having a lie-in will affect your long-term health and more research is needed in this field.”