During a great night out with friends, there always comes a time when someone looks at their watch as says, “It’s getting late. This is fun, but I have to go.”
And, there is always one friend who responds, “Sleep when you’re dead! Come on…Stay… We’re having so much fun!”
Denying your circadian rhythm just two days each week can increase your risk of obesity by 33 percent.
The trouble with that philosophy is, well, skimping on sleep can lead to a low-quality life and an early death. Even if you aren’t a social butterfly burning the midnight oil with friends before heading off to work early the next morning, you may still be at risk for a phenomenon termed “social jet lag.”
“Squeezing in only four or five hours of sleep and waking up and going to bed at different times each day can significantly impair your health, your career and your appearance.”
This phenomenon is linked to your natural circadian rhythm and how well you manage it. Modern society does not make it easy to adhere to the demands of your circadian rhythm. It seems that on any given day, there is always more to do than there are hours in the day: early morning meetings, endless emails, laundry, workouts, late night cocktails with friends, etc. It is easy for sleep to fall to the bottom of the list. Each week, your bedtime gets later and later and your mornings seem earlier and earlier. For now, you have probably been playing catch up on the weekends – avoiding work and focusing on sleep and at least one fun activity. With social jet lag, there is no catch up.
“Studies have shown that social jet lag can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, depression and cognitive dysfunction.”
You may recall that your circadian rhythm is that internal clock that you are born with that makes you an early bird or a night owl – feeling bursts of energy during specific times each day and overwhelmed with sleep at others. And you know how you feel when you have to catch an early flight, switch time zones or recover from an endless Friday that began at 8am with work and ended at 5am after a night out with friends. Messing with your circadian rhythm on a regular basis, like squeezing in only four or five hours of sleep and waking up and going to bed at different times each day can cost you in more ways than one.
“Compounded over time, social jet lag can affect job performance, cause premature aging and lead to weight gain.”
Studies have shown that these types of restrictions on sleep can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, depression and cognitive dysfunction. Statistically, more women than men are suffering from this phenomenon. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of women (versus 54 percent of men) report insomnia at least three nights per week and 50 percent of all women admit these sleepless nights affect their performance at work and their social lives (interesting enough, men don’t complain about lack of sleep as much as women – even when reporting less hours of sleep.)
And if the thought of depression and a few extra pounds doesn’t have you yearning for answers, you may want to know that the research also suggests that compounded over time, this phenomenon disrupts hormone production, causing rapid aging (wrinkles and thinner skin) and impedes glucose tolerance, leading to increased cravings and a larger waistline – even if you workout. The news gets worse, even if you set your schedule straight on the weekdays, like to suit your work schedule, you still may suffer some of these consequences by staying up too late or sleeping in on the weekends – bummer. One study found that denying your circadian rhythm just two days each week can increase your risk of obesity by 33 percent, among other health disturbances, like heart disease and impaired liver function.
The solution: Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night – go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
Nancy Collop, MD and director of the Emory Clinic Sleep Center in Atlanta told Women’s Health, “You don’t need to make up lost hours one-to-one. You need to make up some of those hours and your body will help take care of the rest.”
If you feel you have been suffering from social jet lag for quite some time, experts suggest getting nine to ten hours of sleep for four consecutive nights. Then, focus on your sleep hygiene plan. This means getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, going to bed and waking up at the same times each day and following a strict bedtime routine:
- No work emails, paying bills, watching TV, playing games on your cellphone or tablet or surfing the net one hour before going to bed
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm
- Complete any heart-pumping activities, like a workout or charged conversations three hours before bedtime
- Keep your bedroom dark and at a cool, comfortable temperature
If you are like me, my 8 to 5 job makes following my natural circadian rhythm impossible (I’m a night owl.) While it is not possible to deny mother nature, you can still protect your health by keeping your body in a routine. You might not win any awards for warding off irritability at 6am, but your career, your weight and your appearance won’t suffer any consequences. Here are some tips from Women’s Health magazine (I tried them all – some worked pretty well!):
- Sniff a little rosemary. I was skeptical of this practice, but now I keep a jar by my bed. The hardest part for me is actually getting out of bed. I literally turn off my alarm on most mornings and scramble to get to work on time (that’s how much I hate waking up early – just ask my husband.) I slapped the alarm clock off and took a whiff from the jar – I wasn’t magically transported out of the 5am hour, but it charged my senses enough for me to put my feet on the floor and leave the bed.
- Drink a tall glass of water. I always drank a sip or two of water before fumbling my way to the shower, but I made it a priority to head straight to the kitchen to chug a tall glass before heading to spin class at 530am. It definitely made a difference.
- Just squeeze. The magazine suggested squeezing the pressure point between your thumb and your index finger. This is also an apparent remedy for brain freeze and headaches – let me tell you, it doesn’t work for anything.
- Soak up some sun. Exposure to natural light is easier said than done in most parts of the country. As a night owl, I require exposure to quite a bit of daylight before I can even consider waking up. But on the east coast the sun doesn’t peek over the horizon on most days before 7am. I need to be up earlier than that to fit in a workout or make it to work on time. Short of moving, I am at a loss on this one.