One in three Australians suffer from “social jet lag”, study says

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Photo: congerdesign, Pixabay

A new research reveals that one in three Australians are “socially jet lagged”, with 31 percent of those surveyed saying that the time they sleep is more than an hour out of sync with their body clock on weekends compared with work nights.

“That’s a large chunk of our population whose body clocks are out of alignment, a problem known to negatively impact health and wellbeing,” said Professor Robert Adams, the study’s lead researcher and sleep specialist with the University of Adelaide and the Sleep Health Foundation.

“These findings serve to further illustrate the widespread problem of insufficient sleep in our country and indicate an urgent need for a national inquiry to relieve our sleep loss epidemic. We need to realise that it’s not just about how much sleep we get, it’s when we get it.”

The researchers evaluated the responses of 837 people who were not shift workers, who completed the Sleep Health Foundation Australia 2016 online survey to produce the nation’s first estimates of ‘social jetlag’.

Social jetlag is a term used to describe misalignment between biological and social time. Measured as the difference in sleep midpoint between work and free days, social jetlagging has been associated with unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and adverse health outcomes,” the researchers stated.

“For instance, a person who is naturally a night owl but must start work is at a higher risk of being socially jetlagged,” said Professor Adams. “And the same can be said of morning larks who routinely stay up late on international work calls.”

The research found out that a third of Australian adults regularly experience over an hour of social jetlag. Full-time workers were worst affected, with some routinely suffering more than two hours social jetlag on work days compared to non-work days.

Socially jet lagged respondents were more likely to sleep late, wake up tired, are late for work, and also go to work when they felt they should have taken sick leave.

“This suggests that people with social jetlag are either less able to recognise their sickness signs or they feel a degree of pressure to work despite being unwell or just plain tired,” said Professor Adams. “Either way, it’s time we considered the consequences of these employees driving, operating dangerous machinery and potentially spreading contagious illness in the workplace.

The researchers also found that those with social jetlag were more likely to have phones and other devices in the bedroom and are frequent users of the internet in the hour before sleep, either for work or entertainment.

Further longitudinal population studies are needed to confirm the survey’s findings, but the result nonetheless contributes to the growing number of evidence suggesting that lack of sleep is taking a serious toll on the health and welfare of Australians.

“A national inquiry is urgently needed to examine the full extent of Australia’s sleep deprivation problem and bring in policy initiatives to support our nation prioritizing sleep for their own wellbeing, and for the health and safety of those around us,” said Prof. Adams.

According to the Sleep Health Foundation report by Deloitte Access Economics 2017, Asleep on the Job: Counting the cost of poor sleep, the total cost of inadequate sleep in Australia was estimated to be $66.3 billion in 2016 – 17. The report also revealed that inadequate sleep can lead directly to fatality or work-related accidents. Two examples include falling asleep while driving, and medical staff making medication errors when on shifts.

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