With the rapidly moving world everyone is forced to live a very busy life. Busy schedules have direct influence on our lifestyles. One of the evident changes that our body is adopting with our social status and schedules (e.g., school and work) is seen in the preference of our sleeping pattern. There have been large differences in sleep timing between work and free days leading to a considerable sleep debt on work days, for which they compensate on free days. This discrepancy between work and free days, between social and biological time, is termed as ‘social jet lag’.
Today we all are living under the control of three clocks; our internal circadian biological clock, sunlight clock (this is regulated by the rotation of earth) and next one is our social clock (created by our society of humans). Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in our environment. Circadian rhythm are produced by natural factors within the body, but they are also affected by signals from the environment. Light is the main cue influencing circadian rhythms, turning on or turning off genes that control an organism’s internal clocks. Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions.
The term social jet lag was coined by Till Roenneberg, a professor at the Institute of Medical Psychology at the University of Munich while he was studying why almost two third of our society is waken up in the middle of their biological night. According to him social jet lag is brought on by the shift in sleep schedule that many people experience on their days off, compared to work days. The chronic clash between what our bodies need (more sleep) and what our lives demand (being on time) results in social jet lag. It has been estimated that it affects about two-thirds of the population. He explains it like this; you don’t have to get up for work so you don’t bother setting the alarm. That means you get up an hour or two later than you might during the work week. You may also push your bedtime back so you can go out with friends. As a result, many people get more sleep on their days off than they do during the week, and they sleep on a slightly different schedule – a schedule that is closer to their body’s natural rhythms.
Switching sleep schedules this way feels like changing time zones. “The behavior looks like if most people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo and on Monday they fly back. Since this looks like almost a travel jet lag situation (Jet lag occurs when travelers suffer from disrupted circadian rhythms. When you pass through different time zones, your body’s clock will be different from your wristwatch. For example, if you fly in an airplane from California to New York, you “lose” 3 hours of time. So when you wake up at 7:00 a.m., your body still thinks its 4:00 a.m., making you feel groggy and disoriented. Your body’s clock will eventually reset itself, but this often takes a few days.), we called it social jet lag”.
A key difference between travel jet lag and social jet lag, however, is light. When you arrive in a different place, the sun is coming up and setting at a different time, and your body can reset its own clock to match. With social jet lag, the schedule disruption is chronic because a person stays in the same place. “They have to live a life almost in a different time zone in comparison to their biological clock,” Roenneberg says.
In today’s world majority of the population have been affected by social jet lag. Time to rethink comes because of the strong associations of social jet lag with health risks and health impairing behaviors. Study done by Roenneberg, shows that for every hour of social jet lag, the risk of being overweight or obese rises by about 33%. Other studies have finding suggesting that misalignment of circadian and social time may be a risk factor for developing depression, especially in 31 to 40 year old. Studies also suggest that circadian misalignment can have a significant negative effect on academic performance. One possible reason for this misalignment is socially enforced sleep times.
If we are having social jet lag and if it is affecting our well-being, the only remedy is to realign our sleep pattern with our circadian rhythm; try to realign our weekend and weekday sleep patterns. For this we can make an effort to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.
Other ways that we can adopt to stick to our biological clock includes avoiding caffeine in the day time, although morning cup of caffeine helps us beat the drowsiness but it remains in our body system for hours and if we add caffeine amount during the day, it will affect our sleep timing. Take some time for exercise because people who are physically active tend to have better sleeping habits. Early and light dinner is preferable because heavy dinner can take longer to digest and if eaten late, make it harder to fall asleep. Best time for dinner is 2-3 hours before bed time which is better for our metabolism as well. Create soothing bed time routine like hot shower, some stretches. Exposure to sunlight also has direct impact on our sleeping pattern. If you want more energy in the morning and want to feel sleepier in nights, try getting more sun exposure during morning and less in the afternoon and evening.
Ms. Abha Sharma, MSc. Community Health Nursing
Janamaitri Foundation Institute of Health Sciences, LACHS (TU)
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