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Can You Catch Up On Sleep

So As It Turns Out, You've Probably Got Social Jet Lag

Photographer: Sheila GimNo Restrictions: Editorial and internal use approved. OK for Native and co-branded use.

We've all sacrificed sleep during the week because we think we can catch up by snoozing all weekend long. Then, like clockwork, Sunday night rolls around all of a sudden, you can't sleep! Leaving you tossing and turning 'til 2 a.m., trying to figure out why the hell you can't sleep like a "normal" person. So, what gives?

That sleep-in you're desperately holding out for, is doing your health more harm than good. It's called "social jetlag", and no, it's not just the best excuse your yawning self-has ever heard, it's an actual phenomenon.

The term describes when we sacrifice sleep in favour of social obligations, thinking we can play catch-up further down the line.

Unfortunately, for those of us who love a lie-in, it's all bad news.

Those Sunday sleep sessions you love so much, are disrupting your circadian rhythm, and are most likely to blame for why you can't fall asleep at a regular time once Monday rolls around.

Curious why? Sleep expert and member of the Sleep Health Foundation, Dr. Carmel Harrington, recently shared how social jetlag works, and why the most important part of sleeping well has more to do with your wake up time than anything else.

The Real Question: Can You Catch Up on Sleep?

According to Dr. Harrington, this is a bit of a sleep myth. "Catching up on sleep can make us feel more alert, but we haven't done the processes every single day that we need to make us healthy." She goes on to explain, we should think about sleep similarly to how we think about exercise. "If you only exercise on Saturday, that's not as good as exercising four times a week. Don't think you can get all your sleep on a Saturday, it doesn't work that way."

Why Does Sleeping In Impact Our Ability to Get (Back) to Sleep?

We must first understand how the body's natural circadian rhythm and production of melatonin (a sleep hormone) functions. According to Dr. Harrington, "The way the body works, when you wake up in the morning and expose yourself to bright light, you offset the production of melatonin. When you offset production, you set your 24-hour rhythm. About 16 hours after our offset of melatonin, we are ready to go back to sleep again."

So, when we look at the phenomenon of social jetlag, essentially what is happening is by sleeping in, you are offsetting your melatonin production later in the day, therefore disrupting your normal sleep cycle. Dr. Harrington explains, "People don't get enough sleep during the week, and it comes to the weekend and they play catch up, and might sleep in 'till eleven on Sunday. Well, of course, they then have offset production at eleven on Sunday morning, so they try to go to bed at nine on Sunday night thinking they can go to sleep — well, they can't."

So Does That Mean Sleeping In Is Cancelled?

Obviously, sleeping in isn't a terrible sin. But if you're looking to improve your sleep health, or you've been struggling to fall asleep you may want to consider cutting back. According to Dr. Harrington, for optimal sleep health we actually shouldn't alter our wake time by more than an hour — ever! (Even on weekends or during holidays). As an alternative, if you really need the extra sleep Dr. Harrington suggests a siesta is the better choice. "Take advantage of an afternoon nap, about the time our circadian rhythm naturally drops down, around 2 p. m."

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim
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