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Social Jet Lag: What You Need to Know

Tara Youngblood Oct 28, 2022

What is social jet lag?

Traveling across time zones isn't the only cause of jet lag; altering your sleep schedule on weekends, like staying up late and then sleeping in, can also lead to a form of jet lag – known as social jet lag.

This phenomenon, unrelated to air travel, often occurs when social commitments disrupt our sleep patterns, leading to disorientation. It's especially prevalent in teenagers who tend to sleep in on their days off.

But how can you spot social jet lag, whether in yourself or your teenager and more importantly, how can you manage it?

Below, we'll explore social jet lag more closely and offer practical tips for readjusting your sleep schedule and overcoming its effects resulting in poor sleep.

What is Social Jet Lag?

In 2006, the term "social jet lag" was introduced. Social jet lag is like your body's little rebellion against your social calendar. It happens when your sleep schedule on workdays clashes with the one you adopt on your days off or weekends. [1] Think of those times when you stay up late with friends or binge-watch your favorite show and then sleep the next day to catch up, disrupting your sleep quality.

While it might seem harmless, this shift in sleep timing can throw off your body's internal clock, just like when you travel across time zones. The result? You end up feeling groggy, a bit out of sorts, almost as if you've flown across the globe, even though you haven't left your time zone. It's a common experience, especially among those who juggle a busy social life with a regular work or school routine.

The abrupt alteration in sleep pattern can lead to symptoms similar to those of jet lag, like fatigue and insomnia.

Sleep Study: Social Jet Lag and Related risks for Human Health [2]

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Why Does it Happen?

It occurs because of a mismatch between your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, and the sleep schedule dictated by your social or work commitments. Your circadian rhythm is like an internal 24-hour clock regulating when you feel awake and sleepy, mainly in response to light and darkness.

You might stick to seven to nine hours on a strict schedule during the workweek due to job or school demands. Come the weekend, however, social activities or the desire to unwind can lead to staying up late and sleeping in. This shift in sleep patterns, even if it's just for a day or two, can disrupt your circadian rhythm drastically.

Your internal clock gets confused. It's expecting you to sleep and have regular wake times, but your social life has other plans. This clash leads to the groggy, out-of-sync feeling you experience, similar to when traveling across time zones and adjusting to a new local time – hence the term 'social jet lag.'

For instance, staying up late on a Saturday and then sleeping in on Sunday can often make it challenging to fall asleep on Sunday night.

The Effects of Social Jet Lag

Social jet lag may seem confusing due to the absence of actual travel, but the impact of inconsistent sleep patterns throughout the week can be similar to that of changing time zones.

This phenomenon can lead to several negative effects affecting productivity and performance. [3] Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to social jet lag, which can result in poor academic performance, behavioral problems, and chronic sleep deprivation.

Social Jet Lag Short-Term Side Effects

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep Inertia
  • Daytime Fatigue or Excessive Sleepiness
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Digestion Issues
  • Irritability and Mood Swings
  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Weight Gain
  • Gastrointestinal Issues
  • Decreased Alertness

Social jet lag can also have long-term health impacts and increased risk of several health problems. [4]

Social Jet Lag Long-Term Side Effects

  • Metabolic Disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • Chronic Sleep Disorders
  • Mood Disorders Such as Depression
  • Impaired Cognitive Functions

It's crucial to address social jet lag promptly upon recognizing its symptoms, considering the significant health consequences it can entail.

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Overcoming Social Jet Lag

Social jet lag can be a challenging issue to deal with, whether you're experiencing it yourself or observing it in someone close to you. Fortunately, several effective methods exist to tackle this problem and regain control over your sleep patterns.

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

One effective way to combat social jet lag is by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Following this same bedtime routine is important to prevent social jet lag.

Read More: What is Sleep Health and Why It's Important?

Of course, there are times when late nights are part of the fun or simply unavoidable, and who doesn't love a bit of extra sleep on a day off? Just remember, a little moderation goes a long way. Sleeping in for an hour or two won't disrupt your or your teen's circadian rhythm as much as lounging in bed until noon.

If you find yourself short on sleep, a brief afternoon nap can help balance your sleep debt. But be mindful of how long you nap to maintain a healthy sleep balance.

Use Light Strategically

It's well-known that looking at electronic screens before bed disrupts sleep. Not only do electronics stimulate us (particularly children and young adults), but the light exposure of computers and mobile screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone essential to healthy sleep. [5] Fall asleep more efficiently by turning off electronics at least 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed. Your brain will thank you.

In the morning, flip the switch. Exposing yourself to light (ideally natural sunlight) as soon as you get up is the easiest way to let your system know that it's time to wake up and get your circadian rhythm on track.

Sunlight and social jet lag

Get Enough Sunlight

Getting sunlight early in the morning signals our body to wake up and is a natural cue for your body to begin the day. A study foundthat merely 15 minutes of morning sunlight can help regulate your body clock, enabling you to fall asleep earlier that night.

Artificial light can be a useful alternative for those on night shifts or in regions with very dark winters, helping to trick your body and adjust your circadian rhythm.

So, pull back your curtains, step into the morning sun, or turn on an artificial bright light to wake up your whole system.

Improve Your Sleep Environment

Training yourself to go to sleep earlier is easier said than done. But it is possible—even for night owls. But, if having trouble falling asleep, a proven way to encourage sleepiness is by creating a calm, restful sleep environment.

Dim lighting, a cool temperature, and effective noise insulation in the bedroom will help you prepare for a good night's sleep. Other touches, like a scent, can also influence your shut-eye. For example, lavender has been proven to promote healthy sleep. [6]

It's also helpful to associate your bed purely with sleep. Studying, watching TV, or even plugging into a podcast in bed can delay how quickly you doze off, resulting in poor sleep.

Doing these wind-down activities before you get into bed will signal to your brain and body that when you do finally lie down, it's time to sleep.

Read More: For a comprehensive exploration of practices that can improve your sleep quality, visit our blog about understanding sleep hygiene.

Final Thoughts

Sleep is essential to maintaining our health, whether you're an early riser or a night owl, so it goes without saying that good sleep habits promote better health outcomes. Don't curb fun weekend plans to ensure you're in bed by a certain hour, but try to stray as little as possible from your regular sleeping hours to avoid the nasty effects of social jet lag.

And because this tends to affect teens more than adults, keep an eye on your kids' sleep schedules and encourage them to do the same. Little changes can create better sleep!

Citations/Resources

[1] Wittmann, M., Dinich, J., Merrow, M., & Roenneberg, T. (2006). Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time. Chronobiology international, 23(1-2), 497–509. View Study

[2] Caliandro, R., Streng, A. A., van Kerkhof, L., van der Horst, G., & Chaves, I. (2021). Social Jetlag and Related Risks for Human Health: A Timely Review. Nutrients, 13(12), 4543. View Study

[3] lbid.

[4] Parsons, M., Moffitt, T., Gregory, A. et al. Social jetlag, obesity and metabolic disorder: investigation in a cohort study. Int J Obes 39, 842–848 (2015). View Study

[5] West KE, Jablonski MR, Warfield B. Blue Light from Light-Emitting Diodes Elicits a Dose-Dependent Suppression of Melatonin in Humans. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011 Mar;110(3):619-626. View Study

[6] Lillehei, A. S., Halcón, L. L., Savik, K., & Reis, R. (2015). Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 21(7), 430–438. View Study

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