If you normally sleep 11pm to 7 am on weekdays but 1 am to 11 am on weekends, you are essentially putting your brain through jetlag. It is the equivalent of shuttling back and forth between New York and California. And it’s one reason why so many people end up feeling terrible on Monday mornings.
Sleep researchers refer to this phenomenon as “social jetlag”-when work, school, or social obligations force your body away from its normal sleep patterns. Not only can it explain why so many people feel awful on Monday mornings, but social jetlag seems to also have real health consequences.
Recently, researchers have been discovered that when you sleep can be as important as how much you sleep. Even if you get your recommended eight hours a night, you can still feel terrible if you are going to sleep and waking up at different times over the course of a week.
Everyone is wired to sleep at very specific times
There are a few things that determine when your body should go to sleep. One is exposure to light, which reduces your body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy). But the other major factor is determined by your own particular biology. Some people are naturally early risers, and some people are night owls; and unfortunately you can’t really choose to be one or the other-your body chooses this.
But social norms often clash with your body’s sleep needs
Of course, not everyone gets to go to sleep and wake up whenever their body tells them to. Night owls often have to wake up early to go to school or work. And early risers often have to stay up at night if they want to hang out with their night owl friends. And this can create real problems. Not only is being groggy on Monday mornings a pain, but researchers have been beginning to compile evidence that shifts in when people are sleeping affects their overall health.
In 2012, German research Till Roenneberg found that even the modest social jetlag that occurs between weekdays and weekends was correlated with increases body-mass index for overweight people. A lag of just one hour increases the likelihood of obesity by about a third.
People who are naturally night owls seem to be particularly affected, perhaps because their natural need are at odds with our 9-5 workdays, which is geared towards early risers’ needs. Some studies have concluded that night owls are more prone to depression and that obese night owls are more likely to have sleep apnea.
So how can we defeat social jetlag and wake up feeling great come Monday morning?
- Get more sleep during the week. If you are under sleeping during the week, you are probably trying to catch up on weekends. However, that catch-up sleeping in on weekends just sets you up for terrible Monday mornings.
- Wake up earlier on the weekends. Yes we are aware how painful this sounds, but just try it out for a weekend and see how you do on Monday.
- Take smart weekend naps. If you need a nap, do it between noon and 4pm for 30 minutes or less, to avoid interfering with your sleep pattern at night.
- Get sunlight on Monday. If you are tired on Monday morning, get outside and get some sunlight. Remember, your circadian rhythm is set by your eyes’ exposure to light, which directly sends signals to your brain to wake up. Before all you Oregonians shoot down this idea just remember that even a cloudy day outdoors can be several times brighter than the average lighted room.
- If all else fails, get some blue light. If you absolutely can’t get outside or have been plagued with school that requires you to get up before the sun rises, then crank up those light bulbs indoors. Because the circadian rhythm is specifically responsive to blue light. CAPS (which is located on the fifth floor of Snell) offers two different styles of bright lights that are available to OSU students for a two week loan. Please call CAPS at 541-737-2131 for more information.