Young people * Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Has Christmas given you social jet lag?

Has Christmas given you social jet lag? Festive holiday disrupts sleep patterns

Christmas falling on a Saturday has given many of us the opportunity to take an extended holiday, with late nights and lazy mornings in bed a key feature of the festivities.

But when we are forced back to work in January we will find ourselves struggling to wake up in cold dark mornings. Getting back to a regular sleep routine can be difficult, as our body's internal clock may have been thrown out of sync after "free running" in the holiday - resulting in feelings of sluggishness during the day and problems getting to sleep at night.

In fact, the effect is not unlike the jet lag experienced after a long haul flight which is why some commentators have dubbed it "social jet lag". Our natural body cycles (circadian rhythm) have been disrupted and our biological requirements are out of step with our lifestyle.

This problem can be even greater for children and teenagers as they return to school after enjoying the holiday season.

Those suffering from social jet lag can expect to experience symptoms similar to jet lag, including indigestion, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, clumsiness, feeling generally unwell, lack of energy (fatigue) and irritability.

Dr Victoria Revell, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey, said: "Light is critical for synchronising our internal body clock, that drives daily rhythms in our behaviour and physiology, to the 24 hour day. In the majority of people the clock runs at slightly longer than 24 hours and so it is morning light that is essential for correcting the clock on a daily basis and keeping it running at exactly 24 hours."

"Over the Christmas period we will enjoy staying up late at night and staying in bed in the morning. However, this will allow our body clock to drift later in time similar to flying a couple of time zones west. This means that when we go back to work in the New Year our body clock will be set later than we want it to be so we will really struggle to wake up, get up and get going in the mornings."

Dr Revell said the problem might be overcome by adjusting the ambient light conditions in your bedroom in the morning using a "dawn simulator" or lightbox. This may help to keep body rhythms in sync during the holiday, making it that much easier to face the struggle back to work.

This article was published on Fri 31 December 2010

Image © Tomasz Trojanowski -

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