3 Tips To Reset Your Circadian Rhythm for the Work Week To Make Mondays Less Awful

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Waking up on a Monday with the knowledge that a full new week lies ahead can be daunting, in and of itself. But when you add in the effects of social jet lag—which refers to the sleep-schedule delay of staying up later than usual on Saturday and waking up late on Sunday—it can feel downright impossible. Largely, that’s because you’ve thrown a wrench in your circadian rhythm, making it tough to get good sleep on Sunday and wake up well-rested on Monday. While a couple days on a workweek schedule can have you feeling back to normal, there are also a few ways to gently reset your circadian rhythm when Monday morning arrives.

Experts In This Article

First, it’s helpful to understand why a different weekend sleep schedule than your usual can leave you feeling so wonky on Monday in the first place. Essentially, shifting your sleep and wake times a few hours later than usual on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, can make your body think that you’re “changing time zones without actually traveling across time zones,” sleep psychologist Shelby Harris, PsyD, previously told Well+Good. Hence, the term "social jet lag." This can result in a circadian "clock delay," as described by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, PhD, in a recent Instagram post on this topic. Come Sunday night, your body is operating in the later-than-usual “time zone” of your Saturday schedule.

“Trying to go to sleep early on Sunday when you woke up only a few hours before is like trying to eat dinner only a couple hours after eating an entire pizza.” —W. Chris Winter, MD, sleep advisor at Mattress Firm

“When your typical bedtime arrives on Sunday night, you’ll have a reduced drive to sleep,” says neurologist and sleep specialist W. Chris Winter, MD, sleep advisor at Mattress Firm and featured expert on the new "Chasing Sleep" podcast. “For example, if you’re trying to go to sleep on Sunday at 11 p.m. [for an early wake-up on Monday], it’ll be hard to fall asleep if you woke up at, say, noon, since that was only 11 hours ago, and your body has not developed an adequate drive to sleep.” He equates this scenario to not feeling very hungry if you ate recently versus if you hadn’t eaten in a long time. “Trying to go to sleep early on Sunday when you woke up only a few hours before is like trying to eat dinner only a couple hours after eating an entire pizza,” he says.

That isn't easy to do, so you end up falling asleep later on Sunday night, leaving you with less sleep than you need before you have to wake up on Monday—which makes that morning so notoriously difficult. Of course, the simplest solution to this problem is not to shift your weekend sleep schedule back in the first place, says Dr. Winter, and to keep your circadian rhythm in its usual, well, rhythm.

But, the reality is, at one point or another, you’re bound to find yourself in the scenario of getting crappy sleep on Sunday and knowing you’ll wake up groggy on Monday. That’s where Dr. Huberman’s tips for how to reset your circadian rhythm on Monday morning and switch back to workweek mode come into play. Your first step? Plan to wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual—which might feel counterintuitive on the morning after a poor night of sleep, but allows you the time to fit a few key steps into your routine ahead of the workday.

How to reset your circadian rhythm on Monday morning to combat social jet lag

1. Take a quick cold shower

Sure, this might sound like some special kind of hell, especially on a Monday, but there’s no denying the power of a cold shower to activate the sympathetic nervous system, aka your cortisol-fueled flight-or-fight response. As a result, your heart rate and breathing rate both increase, allowing you to take in more oxygen and feel more alert. This physiological alertness reaffirms for your body that the morning is a time to be awake—no matter what your weekend schedule was like—helping you reset your circadian rhythm to its workweek norm.

2. Do a brief cardio workout, even just 10 minutes

Physical exercise can regulate the hormones linked to your circadian rhythm, spiking the cortisol you need to get up and at ‘em (which is just one reason why cardio is typically recommended in the morning rather than the evening). And again, the more cortisol you can get flowing in the morning, the more your body will re-associate the morning with wakefulness, realigning itself on a workweek schedule.

3. Get 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight (or at least bright artificial light)

Light is one of the most powerful drivers of the circadian rhythm, informing when the body produces cortisol (when light is abundant during the day) and when it alternatively produces melatonin (when light is scarce at night). For that reason, getting light exposure soon after you wake up, and preferably sunlight exposure—which is far more luminescent than artificial light, at around 10,000 lux versus 500—can help cue the release of cortisol, prompting wakefulness and, again, resetting the body clock to an earlier schedule.

If you can’t get sunlight before work, perhaps because of your work schedule or the later sunrise during the winter, the next best thing is a light box, sunrise alarm clock, or other kind of dynamic lighting product that imitates the sun’s rays. Exposure to this kind of light in the morning can similarly rev up your circadian rhythm and return it to its normal weekday programming.

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