Suffering from social jetlag? Sleep expert tells FEMAIL how to get back into the swing of things

December and January were jampacked with events, family gatherings, and an arduous back-to-work slump – and many will still be feeling the brunt of ‘social jet lag’.

Staying up and sleeping late can throw your whole schedule into orbit – and it can be hard to figure out how to get back on track. 

However Dr Lindsay Browning – an expert at Trouble Sleeping and author of the self-help sleep book, Navigating Sleeplessness – has said it is possible, with just a little discipline.

She told FEMAIL the key is patience as you gradually use the clock as a tool to move away from any bad sleeping habits you’ve acquired – and keeping yourself alert during the day.

Sleep expert Dr Lindsay Browning has revealed how to recover from social jet-lag after a busy December and January (stock image) 

Being strict with your wake-up time – even on weekends – and exposing yourself to light in the morning can also help.

‘Social Jet lag is when our wake and bedtimes are misaligned with the wake and bedtimes for work,’ Dr Browning said. 

‘Often, social jet lag means we go to bed late and sleep in at the weekend (or during a holiday), but then we can struggle to go to sleep earlier and wake up early enough for work when its time to go back to work again.’

She explained that this is because a ‘circadian rhythm which controls the time when we feel tired and when we feel awake each day’.

Dr Browning said it can be ‘hard’ to go back to your old rhythm – but it’s definitely doable with some ground rules.

1. Start with one hour a day 

Dr Browning said that moving your circadian rhythm by one hour a day is easier than braving ‘a big jump of several hours in one go’.

‘It is a good idea to start moving your bedtime and wake time towards your ideal timings gradually,’ she explained.

She added that patience is key in setting the internal clock back to normal.

‘It might take a few days for the new timings to feel natural.’

2. Open up those curtains 

Light exposure, Dr Browning explained, can be a very powerful tool in how your body understands time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), humans see light as a signal to be awake, and the darkness as a sign that it’s time to rest.

3. Make the alarm EVERY morning 

No sleeping in on the weekends! Even though it may be tempting to lay in bed and sleep your Saturdays and Sundays away, Dr Browning says it’s important to be strict with yourself during the adjustment period.

‘To get used to going to bed and waking up earlier, it’s imperative that you set a morning alarm and get up every morning at this new earlier time,’ she added.

‘If you let yourself sleep-in when the weekend comes, you won’t get used to the earlier bedtime and wake times.’


This is also why staying away from screens is recommended as a way to wind down before bed.

‘If you have been used to going to sleep too late and sleeping-in then bright light exposure in the morning can help to shift your natural circadian rhythm earlier,’ Dr Browning said. 

‘It will also help you to feel more alert and refreshed during the day.’

4. Keep your caffeine intake small and impactful

As tempting as it could be to down a jug of coffee to help keep you awake, Dr Browning advised to focus on smaller doses.

‘If you are struggling with alertness in the morning, small regular amounts of caffeine can be more helpful than one or two large coffees to keep you going through the day,’ she said. 

Most have their first cup of Joe within minutes of waking up, or as soon as they get to their desk. 

But the best time to drink coffee for most is actually between 9.30am and 11am.

Studies show cortisol levels — the main stress hormone — are high when we wake up, and that having a coffee that early boosts these even more, leaving us at risk of unnecessary jitters.

Former US President George W. Bush used to drink about 10 cups to get through the day, while Virgin mogul Richard Branson once claimed he would drink twenty cups.

Many people know this is already far too much, but according to recent research involving 500,000 people three cups appear to be the sweet spot for reaping the best benefits.

Another study from 2015 showed consuming five cups was optimal for living a longer life, while one from March last year suggested two cups were best. Somewhere in between is likely best for reaping the rewards.

5. Exercise in the morning 

While it could be a challenge to get yourself out of bed early for exercise, this really can be a wonder that helps you both wake up and go to sleep earlier.

Dr Browning said that the stimulation from a workout can boost alertness and have you feeling more ready for the day.  

And what’s more, it could also be good for you.

According to research, women who exercise in the morning may have a lower risk of suffering heart problems or a stroke.

A study of more than 85,000 people in the UK looked at their physical activity levels while they wore a fitness tracker for a week.

People were split into four groups, including those who were most active in the early morning, at around 8am, and those most active mid-morning at around 10am.

The other two groups contained people most active at midday and in the evening at around 7pm. 

People who exercised first thing in the morning or mid-morning were found to have a lower risk of developing heart problems, including a heart attack, the most common form of angina and coronary heart disease.

Those who exercised mid-morning were less likely to have a stroke.

Gali Albalak, who led the study from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: ‘It is well established that exercise is good for heart health, and our study now indicates that morning activity seems to be most beneficial.

‘The findings were particularly pronounced in women, and applied to both early birds and night owls.’