18th Dec 2017

Can you get jet lagged without jetting off?

18th Dec 2017

Curated by Karolina Punovuori

Jet lag is exhausting, and it turns out you could get it by staying at home too.

In 10 seconds? New research suggests that “social jet lag” increases the chance of heart disease and can lead to obesity. Luckily, a consistent sleep pattern and revised meal times can be good counter-measures. (Read the science here)

What is social jet lag and shouldn’t it only affect socialites? No, it affects a lot of us, particularly shift workers and teenagers. Social jet lag occurs when we sleep less on workdays and get up much later on days off.

You mean even healthy youngsters? This study of teens in Northern Russia between 2011 and 2014 — a period when their timezone was shifted forward by an hour by law — showed that they experienced significant misalignment between their social and body clocks, affecting their sleep, mood and behaviour. (More about social jet lag here)

So I can’t let down my hair on Friday and lie-in on Saturday? Well, if you do this on a regular basis, you’ll get similar effects to jet lag, like feeling sluggish and being much less efficient. A study of Major League baseball players found that their athletic performance suffered when travelling through time zones. (Read more here)

But I know I’m a night owl! Ah, so did you know that we each have a natural internal schedule, or chronotype, which tells us when we need to go to bed? Sleep experts claim that finding out and which chronotype you are and then working with it will help you sleep and perform better.

Is this genetic? Good guess. Your chronotype is determined by your PER3 gene. If you have a long PER3 gene, you are an early riser and need 7 hours of sleep a day. A shorter PER3 gene means you are a late riser and can get by with less sleep.

I’m so busy though — what can I do? Emerging research suggests that delaying meal times to match later bedtimes could mitigate the effects of sleeping late. And for those who get less shut-eye overall during the week, the advice is to stick to a regular sleep schedule, which sadly means no lie-ins on the weekend. 

What really controls our body clock and how can I minimise jet lag when travelling?

The recurring sequence of night and day dictates the circadian rhythms (internal body clocks) of the majority of lifeforms on Earth. Scientists believe that our brain has not evolved to process rapid light-dark changes, such as due to changing time zones or irregular work shifts.

Before a long trip, try gradually adjusting to your destination’s time zone a few days ahead, and once you arrive, go to sleep at local bedtime and spend more time in natural light. (Learn more here)

(Psst, Karolina distilled 18 research papers to save you 623.4 min)