Social Jet Lag: The Biological Cost of Socializing

Tara Youngblood Oct 28, 2022

What is social jet lag?

Landing in a new time zone definitely causes jet lag.

Staying up late on the weekends, and compensating for it by sleeping in will most likely lead to jet lag as well – the social kind, that is.

You’ve probably experienced the disorienting effects of what scientists call “social jet lag” – which has really nothing to do with flying – when you’ve socialized, pulled an all-nighter, and slept late the next day. Social jet lag is particularly common among teenagers, who are notorious for sleeping in on their days off.

So, how do you recognize social jet lag in not only yourself but in your teenager, and what are some ways to combat it? Below, we will take a deeper dive into this phenomenon and provide a guide to bouncing back from social jet lag.

What is Social Jet Lag?

The term social jet lag was first coined in 2006 to describe the tiredness caused by having a dramatically different sleep schedule on the weekends. [1] In other words, social jet lag refers to staying up “past your bedtime” to socialize after a full week of school or work and then sleeping in to make up for it. The sudden change in sleep schedule can result in symptoms similar to jet lag, such as fatigue and insomnia.

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

But why does this happen? Our sleep patterns are influenced by a couple of different factors. On the one hand, the longer we've been awake, the more tired we become. On the other hand, humans have an internal clock that keeps us more or less aligned with Earth’s day-night cycle. This is called our circadian rhythm.

Traditional jet lag occurs when this rhythm is forced out of sync by changing time zones. However, we can also throw our circadian balance off by significantly changing our sleep patterns throughout the week, whether it's to socialize or to catch up on sleep after a long week.

Tired from social jet lag

The Effects of Social Jet Lag

While social jet lag might seem like a misnomer (after all, there's no jetting involved), the short-term effects of having varying sleep patterns in a week are similar to those of changing time zones.

Specifically, social jet lag is characterized by several undesirable side effects, which influence your productivity and performance. [3] In teens, who are especially susceptible to social jet lag, it can manifest through bad grades and behavioral issues.

Social Jet Lag Short-Term Side Effects

  • Insomnia

  • Sleep Inertia

  • Daytime Fatigue

  • Poor Concentration

  • Digestion Issues

  • Irritability

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

Social Jet Lag Long-Term Side Effects

  • Metabolic Disorders

  • Heart Disease

  • Mood Disorders Such as Depression

  • Sleep Disorders

All that to say, it’s important to tackle social jet lag as soon as you notice symptoms. Alternatively, take a preventative approach with the social-jet-lag-fighting tips.

Bouncing Back from Social Jet Lag

If your teenager is suffering from the effects of social jet lag, or if you are seeing the signs of it in yourself, there is some good news: there are a number of effective strategies for combating social jet lag and getting your sleep patterns under control.

Maintain Consistency

Perhaps the most obvious remedy to social jet lag is to maintain a more consistent sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time every day—whether it's a Tuesday or Saturday—is the best way to stave off any social jet lag side effects.

That being said, staying up late on weekends is sometimes unavoidable—or just fun—and sleeping in on a day off can feel luxurious. In these cases, moderation is key. Sleeping in for an extra hour or two will have far less of an impact on you or your teen’s circadian rhythm than sleeping in until noon.

And if you didn’t get quite enough sleep, an afternoon nap can help balance your sleep debt.

Use Light Strategically

It’s a well-known fact that looking at electronic screens before bed disrupts sleep. Not only do electronics stimulate us (particularly children), but the light of computers and mobile screens actually suppresses the release of 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.

Read More: How Does Blue Light Affect Sleep

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

Create a Conducive Sleep Environment

Training yourself to go to sleep earlier is easier said than done. But it is possible—even for night owls. 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 to 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]

Read More: Understanding Sleep Hygiene

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.

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. Designed to create a calming space to relax and unwind, our sleepme Sleep Kit will help you sleep deeper and better wherever you are.

So Long, Social Jet Lag

Sleep is essential to maintaining our health, so it goes without saying that good sleep habits promote better health outcomes. Obviously, don’t curb fun weekend plans to make sure 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 and encourage them to do the same.

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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