‘We can use this crisis to become more aware of social jet lag’ - In conversation with Dr Myriam Juda

‘We can use this crisis to become more aware of social jet lag’ - In conversation with Dr Myriam Juda

Dr. Myriam Juda is Adjunct Professor Of Psychology at Simon Fraser University. She is a consultant and research psychologist specialising in circadian rhythms.

With expertise in sleep-wake cycles, shift-work, light and health, Myriam has worked for some of the world’s largest companies including Volkswagen, Arcelor-Mittal, Siemens and Osram. 

We spoke to Myriam about her inspiration and work.

 Tell us a bit about your background. How did you first become interested in circadian rhythms?

So I started my academic career in a slightly different field but then decided to change my focus to circadian rhythms for my PhD. 

My Masters was in Evolutionary Psychology and I will always be fascinated with the fundamental questions of psychology - who we are and why we behave the way we do. 

But I thought circadian rhythms were incredibly interesting because the research felt more applicable and practical in the real world. 

I could see that this field has the potential to really address contemporary issues and ultimately improve people’s lives. 

My PhD, for example, focused on the sleep-wake cycles of shift workers. Working with the lighting manufacturer OSRAM, I was also involved in one of the first lighting intervention studies ever done.

Do you have any insight into how the pandemic has affected our internal clock?

Obviously, it’s been a terrible crisis and a very stressful time for many people. But chronobiologists have tried to learn as much as possible and there are some fascinating projects taking place.

On the positive side, I expect that overall there will be less social jet lag. So that’s fewer people living out of sync with their inner clock and relying on alarm clocks to get out of bed in the morning.

We’re also expecting to see a big improvement in people’s sleep duration - especially for children who haven’t been forced to wake up early for school.

But on the other hand, we expect to see some negative consequences too.

I predict a large number of people to ‘phase delay’ - that’s when your inner clock gets later and you gradually become more of a Night Owl. This is because people are getting less light - especially in the morning. And morning light is crucial for setting your inner clock.

So do you think it’s an opportunity for positive change?

Absolutely. I really hope we can use this to become more aware of social jet lag.

I think it’s exposed a lot of issues and unnecessary problems caused by our work lives and the school system. It’s also proof that we can do things differently: more flexible schedules, more opportunity to work from home, and less international travel.

So yes, I think this crisis offers an opportunity to rethink the way we live and work in a way that’s more mindful of our inner clock.

Do you think people are more aware of circadian rhythms? Are these ideas are finally starting to catch on in architecture, design, and even corporate wellbeing?

I do think more people are learning about circadian rhythms - it seems to be quite a trendy idea at the moment.

Architects and designers have always been interested in light from an aesthetic and psychological point of view. But they’re only recently starting to see light as a health issue too.

It’s definitely a good thing that more people are talking about circadian rhythms. But unfortunately, I do see a lot of misunderstanding and half-truths. 

For example, the lighting industry can sometimes oversimplify the science. Saying things like: ‘this light is blue-enriched and therefore good for your circadian rhythm’ for example. Or more commonly: ‘this light is blue depleted and therefore good for your health’. In reality, it’s much more complicated than that. 

I think we need to make sure claims about circadian rhythms are evidence-based and involve the input from scientists.

To find out more about Dr. Myriam Juda’s research and consultancy work,
visit circadianlighttherapy.com