Could Our Children Be Suffering From Social Jetlag?

When we turned back the clock a few weeks ago, the girls had all sorts of questions:

“Who decides when we turn back the clocks?  Why doesn’t everyone change time at the same time?  What time is it really?  If we can change time any time what does time mean anyways?  How do we know when we are on the right time? ”

And on and on the questions went.  All good questions, but I was left wondering “Do we really benefit from the time change or could this time change actually be doing us more harm than good?”


I don’t know about you but that one hour shift had a huge impact on my family, and adjusting to the new time was not as easy as I had anticipated it to be.

Although we all looked forward to “gaining” an extra hour of sleep on that much anticipated “fall back” day, I don’t fell like I actually gained much at all, other than quite a of confusion for several weeks following the time change.

Why is that?

And as my daughters asked, “Does it really make sense to change the clocks at all? Or shouldn’t we just stay on the same time and stay in tune with the natural rhythm of time?

The article below, written by Dr. Sarah Briggs, and originally published on under a Creative Commons Licence, sheds some light on these questions.


 Regular Bedtime is as Important for Kids as Getting Enough Sleep

We’ve long known that children need a certain amount of sleep: nine to 11 hours per night for older kids, and up to 14 hours in 24 for toddlers. There’s no doubt that getting enough sleep is paramount to a child’s healthy development, but recent research has shown that a regular routine – going to bed the same time every night and waking the same time every morning – is just as important to a child’s daytime functioning.

[Image credit: franckito / 123RF Stock Photo]

An Australian study of almost 2,000 school-aged children recently showed that, when compared to a child with the same bedtime (less than a 30 minutes difference across the week), a child with a 60-minute difference was twice as likely to display hyperactive behaviours and have problems controlling their emotions.

Children who had a two-hour difference in bedtime across the week were six times as likely to display hyperactive behaviours. This association was seen even when the children were getting the recommended amount of ten hours of sleep per night.

Irregular bedtime schedules have a similar impact in teenagers, with an older study in adolescents reporting that inconsistent sleep schedules were associated with increased anxiety and depression, again, regardless of the total amount of sleep obtained.

So, are the irregular routines driving the poor behaviour or are the behavioural problems resulting in poor routines?

A recent study of more than 10,000 children in the UK suggests the former. The researchers found that if a child went from having a regular bedtime schedule when a toddler (three years) to an irregular schedule when they started school (five years), their behaviour worsened over time. This study also showed that behaviour problems improved if the child went from an irregular schedule to a regular one.

If your child or teen is getting the right amount of sleep, why should it matter that they go to bed at different times?

The answer lies in the way sleep is regulated within the body. The need for sleep is a biological process and is regulated, in part, by a circadian rhythm which stems from the brain. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock and regulates sleep and wake by producing hormones at certain times of the day, based on the cycle of light and dark, to trigger alertness or tiredness.

Most people are familiar with, and may have even experienced, jetlag. When we move quickly from one time zone to another, the circadian rhythm falls out of sync with the environmental clock or activities. This leaves us with feelings of extreme tiredness, fuzzy headedness, poor concentration, irritability and even nausea.

These same feelings can arise when the circadian is forced out of sync by our everyday activities, such as when bedtimes change night to night, or even when bed and wake times shift later on weekends. This phenomenon is termed social jetlag.

Social jetlag is often most obvious in teenagers. During puberty, the circadian rhythm shifts so that the biological cues for sleep and wake occur later than at other stages of the life cycle. This results in teenagers not wanting to go to sleep until late into the night and wanting to sleep through to late morning, early afternoon. The use of electronic devices at night will intensify this shift.

As a result of study, family and work or sporting commitments, many teenagers have highly irregular schedules and chronic sleep deprivation. This leaves them experiencing all the physical and mental consequences of flying across to the other side of the world.

Research shows social jetlag can affect younger children too. The problem is that, unlike jetlag which resolves after the circadian system adjusts to the new time zone, social jetlag can be ongoing.

The good news is that social jetlag is relatively easy to fix. Here are some simple tips that will help your child or teenager maintain a regular sleep routine:

Set a regular, non-negotiable, bedtime each night
Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes to an hour before the child’s bedtime
Have a sleep preparation routine (for example, get pyjamas on, brush teeth, read a story, and so on)
Don’t allow your child to have any caffeinated foods or beverages at least three to four hours before bedtime
Keep light levels low in the bedroom.
Setting up a new sleep routine for your child can be tough and may take some time to become a habit, much like starting a new exercise program. However, healthy sleep practices are not only about getting enough and making the effort to establish a regular sleep routine will be well worth it for both you and your child.

This article written by Dr. Sarah Briggs was originally published on under a Creative Commons Licence. If you enjoyed this article, visit for more.

[link to original article]

About Sarah Biggs

4rhc8d3w-1342133977Sarah Biggs  completed her PhD in paedatric sleep in 2010 and since then has had a research focus on examining the mechanisms involved in the association between poor sleep and daytime functioning in children.  In particular, her research has shown that children with sleep disordered breathing may have a disrupted homeostatic process, resulting in an increased pressure to sleep and an inability to recover during the sleep period. Understanding these mechanistic pathways will provide for better treatment and management of sleep problems in children.

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  1. Often wonder when we are going to do away with the practice altogether. It’s long outlived any usefulness to farmers and has proven to be a waste of energy, rather than an energy saver. Arizona is currently the only non-compliant state. Maybe I should move there! 🙂

  2. I had wondered the same thing and understand the impact it has on our and our kids sleep patterns. There was a study done not long ago about the economic impact of not doing the times change. It turned out that the impact would be huge negative in jobs, resources and business revenues. That was a big surprise to me. But the research was very detailed and made the case to leave the time change thing in place… sigh!

    • That’s an important point you make Susan. Productivity whether, at home, school or work is important. I’m also a bit surprised by the findings of the study you mention as I see the impact on my girls… I’m always surprised when I have a hard time getting them up in the morning, when logically it should be easier…

  3. I happen to like day light savings time because I do not get up early in the morning so I like more light at the end of the day. I can’t wait until we get more light. The winter solstice occurs around December 21 at which time we start the journey to more light in the evenings.

    • Arleen, I completely agree about more light! Even with having turned back the clocks it gets dark before my girls get home from school. They love to play outside to decompress after a long day. Fortunately I do get up early and I love the early morning light. There’s something wonderfully serene and inspiring about it 🙂

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