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Social jet lag: what happens to our bodies when the clocks go back this weekend?

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Hollie Richardson
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When do clocks go back 2020

The clocks go back an hour on Sunday (27 October), which means we get an extra hour in bed. But how does this affect our bodies and wellbeing in the long term? 

Get ready for some seriously short days and long, dark nights: the clocks go back an hour on Sunday 27 October. We’ve already looked at how to make the most of that extra hour of sleep, and we’re always on hand to dish out some seriously helpful sleep tips

Because, we all know that it’s around this time of year that many of us start to feel sluggish, gloomy and, in some cases, depressed. The medical term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is often caused by the drop in temperature and disruption to sleep patterns

But the effects of these changes are also described as being ‘social jet lag’, because it can leave you feeling like you literally have jet lag.

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What is social jet lag?

Historically, people’s body clocks have been aligned with the rising and setting of the sun. Our internal body clocks (circadian rhythm) are reliant on external clues, with light being a crucial factor in shaping healthy and balanced body clocks. This affects our sleep patterns, mood and wellbeing. So, when this is disrupted, we can feel tired, confused and groggy – a lot like jet lag.

What causes social jet lag?

When the clocks go back an hour in October, we lose a daylight hour each day. The temparture also drastically drops at this time of year. The World Health Organization reports that, as a result of both these factors, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. Also, over half (51%) of UK respondents in a recent global YouGov survey revealed that they only spend one hour or less a day outside. This means that your body clock could be at risk because it is not receiving the clues it needs to send you to sleep. In the long run, this can disrupt our circadian rhythm significantly.

In more research shared by VELUX, Steven Lockley, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist explains: “Exposure to light-dark cycles is an absolutely crucial part of our biology and that’s due to the role of light in resetting our circadian clock each day. It resets our clocks to be in tune with environmental time, and light is the primary time-cue.”

autumn food recipes
When do the clocks go back in autumn? Sunday 27 October.

How to overcome social jet lag

Ensuring you spend more time outdoors during daylight hours and being strict with your sleep routine are the two obvious but essential steps here. But, as we all no-doubt know, they are both easier said than done. 

Here are some tips to help:

  • Try walking part of your route to work; get off the tube a stop earlier and plan to travel the last bit of the journey through green areas.
  • Try to take your lunch break and sit outdoors to get some natural light whenever possible. If there isn’t an obvious place right by your office, have a stroll and see if you can find a nice spot in a nearby park (and wrap up warm!).
  • Reduce your screen time on your phone and smart devices before bed.
  • Invest in a SAD lamp to imitate natural light when falling asleep and waking up. 
  • Let as much natural light into your home as you can, and position your seating spaces next to windows. 

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If you are dealing with anxiety and depression related to SAD, please visit Mind for more information or contact The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association via contact@sada.org.uk.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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