Is lying in really good for you?
It’s something we’re all guilty of, especially after a late night. ‘It’s Saturday’, you probably think, ‘so I can just catch up on sleep tomorrow and have a lie-in.’ Some of you probably even rely on the weekends as your only opportunity to catch up on sleep but is this really good for us? Can a late night really be remedied by an even later morning?
According to research, the answer is, unfortunately, a resounding no. Sleeping in at the weekend won’t help you to catch up on any lost sleep and can cause what is known as social jet lag.
What is social jet lag?
Social jet lag was a term coined by sleep scientist Dr Roenneberg and refers to the idea of a misalignment between biological and social time. It’s estimated that 2 in 3 of us will suffer from social jet lag.1 Humans as a species have preferred times for sleep and activity which can vary from person to person – some of us are instinctive night owls whereas some prefer getting up early.
This preference is largely dictated by our circadian clock but sometimes our preferred biological sleep time can be interrupted by our social schedules, whether it’s work or staying up late.2 If you don’t generally fall asleep until midnight and then get woken up by your alarm at 6am, this will result in you losing sleep during the week and experiencing the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
However, compensating for this loss by sleeping longer, more erratic hours at the weekend simply worsens the issue, leading to wider consequences for your health and wellbeing.
How is social jet lag affecting your health?
Let’s start with the most recent research circulating about social jet lag. In a study conducted by researchers from the Health and Sleep Programme at the University of Arizona, 948 adults were surveyed and a link was found between those that experienced social jet lag and cardiovascular disease.
It was revealed that each hour of social jet lag resulted in an 11.1% increase the likelihood of developing heart disease.3 The reason for this drastic increase wasn’t that apparent but this worrying piece of research is just the latest in a long line of health issues associated with social jet lag.
Another study also identified a connection between sleep misalignment, cholesterol and insulin. In this study, 447 volunteers who worked day shifts had their sleep monitored by researchers. Of these participants, 85% experienced a later midsleep – halfway point in their sleep pattern - on free days compared to work days, with many sleeping in on their free days and experiencing fewer hours of sleep on work days.
Subjects with particularly significant misalignments were found to have poor cholesterol profiles, higher insulin levels and a greater BMI than others.4 Although further studies are needed, the relationship between social jet lag and increased risk towards diabetes does look likely, particularly given the pre-existing risks of sleep deprivation, which can also affect your mood and memory.
What can you do to prevent social jet lag?
At this time of year, social jet lag may be particularly relevant. In the upcoming month, many of us will be focusing on getting ready for the winter holidays, with office parties and family gatherings populating our social calendars.
Not to mention a ready availability of alcohol, heavy meals and caffeine can sometimes make us more vulnerable to social jet lag and more tempted to stay up late and sleep in the following day.
So what can you do to prevent social jet lag?
1 – Curb your caffeine intake
It’s not exactly a secret that caffeine isn’t the best thing for your sleep patterns but, at this time of year, you’re likely to be confronted with a lot more of it. Gingerbread lattes, salted caramel cappuccinos and, the most notorious of them all, Coca-Cola.
Not only are all these beverages loaded with sugar (a scary amount of sugar sometimes!), they will definitely interrupt your sleep and keep you up at night.
It’s estimated that caffeine can linger in your system for around 4-6 hours – so that afternoon latte or glass of cola can definitely come back to haunt you.5 That’s not to say you have to miss out entirely, but limiting your intake may help. Some recommend keeping your intake to around 300ml a day.6
To put this into perspective, an 8 ounce cup of coffee can have anywhere from 95-165ml of caffeine in it. If you want a caffeine-free alternative, you could try our natural coffee substitute Bambu, which is rich in potassium and contains a potent blend of Turkish figs, barley, wheat and chicory.
2 – Have a light dinner
Turkey, roast potatoes, pigs in blanket, stuffing, cheesecake, tiramisu and a lot of chocolate – this is the time of year when we let go and enjoy our food.
However, this can have some less-than-desired effects on your digestive system and you might find it difficult to sleep as your body will be wide-awake trying to digest all the food you’ve been eating.
It’s also a well-known British custom to indulge in a take-away on a night out – pizzas, fish and chips, kebabs etc. You tuck into food on your way home and then wonder why you can’t drift off.
Now I’m not saying not to enjoy your festive treats, but it might be a good idea to make your dinner a light meal. Try to avoid eating anything too rich in the hours leading up to your bedtime and definitely ignore the temptation to indulge in any sugary treats as these may cause your blood glucose levels to fluctuate, triggering a spike in your insulin levels!
3 – Try to stick to a routine
Staying up late and sleeping in can lead to social jetlag so try and maintain a sleep schedule throughout the week. Getting this routine right can be tricky since, by nature, some of us are more predisposed to staying up late or rising early
The best advice I can give, though, is not to deviate too far from the norm during your free days and make sure you’re getting enough sleep on work nights. This may mean going to bed earlier during the week or making some adjustments to your usual schedule.
If you are finding it difficult to sleep, you could try our natural sleep remedy Dormeasan. A gentle blend of valerian and hops, Dormeasan can help you to maintain a normal sleep pattern and isn’t associated with any of the drowsy side-effects of conventional sleep medicines.
4 – Practice good sleep hygiene
You’re unlikely to get a good night of sleep if your sleep hygiene routine is all over the place. Lying in bed and watching videos on your phone or working right up until the last minute isn’t conducive to making you feel calm or relaxed.
As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous blogs, the blue light emitted from devices such as mobile phones, tablets and televisions can interrupt your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. I would try leaving your devices alone at least an hour before bedtime and instead focus on more restful activities. Indulge in a long soak in a hot bath or read a book.
Make sure the temperature in your bedroom isn’t too hot or too cold and remember to turn the light off before your head hits the pillow. You could even try ditching your alarm clock and replacing it with a sunrise alarm clock, which, rather than immediately jerking you out of your sleep cycle, gently wakes you up with a gradual light that can sometimes even help sufferers of SAD.
For more information about good sleep hygiene, please take a look at my sleep hygiene tips!
5 – Get outside
When winter comes all most of us want to do is hibernate indoors with our central heating systems and hot water bottles. However, getting some fresh air outside has a whole host of benefits but the one I’m going to focus on here is vitamin D.
An important vitamin for the immune system, vitamin D deficiency is particularly common during winter, thanks to a lack of sunlight, and can result in a number of unfortunate symptoms, affecting your mood and sometimes leading to conditions like SAD. Not having enough vitamin D can also cause problems such as sleep deprivation and insomnia so it’s important that you make sure you’re not missing out.
A brisk walk or jog outside can make a real difference so wrap up and make the most out of the winter sunshine.
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