Health: Beating the summer ‘jet lag’ syndrome

Dr Jason Ellis.
Dr Jason Ellis.
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We’ve all done it - tossed and turned for hours, willing yourself to fall asleep, all the while watching the clock ebb ever closer to the morning.

And at this time of year the problem could be worse than ever.

If your sleep has been out of sync since the weekend, you’ve got British Summer Time to blame.

Experts say that changing the clocks can badly affect us, with one survey finding people suffering a 10 per cent dip in the quality of their sleep.

“It’s almost like taking a flight to Europe and getting a bit of jet lag,” said Dr Jason Ellis, a professor of sleep science at Northumbria University.

“You get a very strong decrease in sleep quality.

“That leads to less recovery and less repair time for body and mind. Sleep is excellent for processing, replenishing and repairing your bodily systems, but it also helps your mind.

“There are lots of daytime consequences associated with the daytime clock change – we see more traffic accidents. This clock change in particular is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, by about 10 per cent.”

Some of these effects aren’t surprising as a new survey of Leeds residents for a West Yorkshire firm has found a bad night’s sleep leaves over a third of people in the city unable to concentrate.

The poll for Mirfield-based bedding manufacturer Slumberdown also discovered that nearly 40 per cent of people in the city felt grumpy after losing sleep.

“As a nation overall our sleep health is being badly affected by the increasing stress and strain of modern life and this is evidenced by the findings from the study in Leeds. What this data also shows us is the vicious cycle that can develop between having a poor night and a bad day,” Dr Ellis said.

“The poorer the sleep we get at night the more frustrated, emotional and unproductive we become during the day and this then feeds into those worries and concerns that we are seeing, which prevent us from getting a good night’s rest.”

So if missing out on sleep can have such serious consequences, what can we do to make up for the lack of shut-eye caused by the clocks going forward?

Firstly, make the most of the extra light. If you’re up, get outside and absorb some of the daylight, which will help your body get back into sync.

Then, get some exercise. “It’s excellent for helping the body clock maintain a schedule,” Dr Ellis said. “If you get some exercise in the early afternoon, it can help with that dip that you get.”

Food also has an important part to play, he said. Foods like rice, cereal, cherries and soft fruit all help the body to metabolise melatonin and eating them before bed will help with improving sleep.

Couples in Leeds have already found their own ways to ensure they aren’t disturbed, the survey also found.

One in four people in the city sleep separately so that they get a good night’s sleep - with the most common reason being to avoid their partner’s snoring.

Dr Ellis said that having quiet in the bedroom is essential to sleep well.

As the body goes through different stages of sleep, he explained, at some points sleep is lighter so that we can subconsciously check that there is no danger nearby.

“If it’s feasible, wear ear plugs,” he said.

“If you’re not able to, have some white noise in the background. A fan creates some really nice white noise and detracts from any other noises.”

In addition, your bedroom needs to be dark, Dr Ellis says – and that means putting the electronic devices away.

“The blue light emitted from the screens tends to switch on part of the brain to wake up,” he said.

Having the room cool, and comfortable, with good quality pillows and mattress is vital too.

If you do fall asleep, but like almost two thirds of people in Leeds, wake up during the night, don’t lie there getting more and more stressed, says Dr Ellis.

“Get out of bed and go and do something boring and meaningless. Once you start to get really tired, go back to bed.”

SLEEP STYLE EXPLAINED

Foetus: You appear hard faced on the outside, but on the inside you are sensitive.

Log: Sociable and laid-back, you are willing to accept and welcome strangers.

Soldier: Sleeping on your back, with arms by your sides, you have private and reserved nature and a bit of a loner.

Starfish: This bed hogger is an open person, a good listener and a great friend, though you’re not keen on being in the limelight.

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