Social JetLag: Exploring Its Effects on Health and Sleep Patterns
The Arrival of Early Monday Morning: A disrupted weekend sleep schedule from late nights on Friday and Saturday has left you with barely 4 or 5 hours of restless sleep. If this scenario resonates, you might be facing the phenomenon known as ‘social jet Lag‘.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is social jetlag?
- How does it affect our sleep and health?
- Tips on how you can beat your social jetlag
What is social jetlag?
Social jetlag refers to the practice of adopting two distinct sleep patterns that stand apart from each other. This divergence commonly arises between significantly separate weekday and weekend routines, although it can manifest in various scenarios.
So, why does this pose an issue? Your body operates with a clever intrinsic system known as the circadian rhythm, which communicates to your body when it’s time to sleep. This rhythm is delicate, and a lifestyle that frequently falls out of sync could potentially undermine your sleep quality.
For many individuals, leading this ‘dual life’ gives rise to physical symptoms reminiscent of those experienced during travel-induced jet lag. Let’s consider this scenario: You board a flight from London to Los Angeles on a Friday, and then return on a Sunday. How would such a journey impact you? An educated guess would likely be – not very positively! However, it’s worth noting that social jetlag is more intricate than a simple transition across time zones. One of the primary distinctions between social and ‘typical’ jet lag lies in our response to light. For instance, when you land in LA, the sun rises and sets at different times, prompting an adjustment in your circadian rhythm. Social jetlag, on the other hand, encompasses a subtler change in routine, while your physical location remains constant. The outcome? Disruption and a disordered sleep schedule.
Why is it so common?
In the fast-paced landscape of modern life, the demands are unceasing. Consequently, we find ourselves toiling more while sacrificing sleep, either to fulfill social commitments or to excessively engage with screens of various sizes. This new reality, inevitably, introduces novel risks. According to certain experts, a phenomenon known as social jetlag might be affecting a significant portion of the population, with the following factors emerging as the primary culprits:
- Shifted Work Schedules: The scheduling of shift work plays a pivotal role in inducing social jetlag.
- Sleep Disruptions: Irregular sleep patterns, such as varying sleep schedules between weekdays and weekends, contribute to the onset of social jetlag.
- Mismatch between Sleep Schedule and Chronotype: Contradicting your chronotype, a genetically predetermined inclination, can significantly impact the intensity of social jetlag. Individuals who align with early bird tendencies are less prone to this phenomenon, while those who lean towards night owl preferences often experience heightened sleep irregularities due to conventional work schedules favoring early chronotypes.
Furthermore, as society gradually returns to pre-pandemic routines (including resuming office work, rekindling social interactions with friends and family), ongoing research delves into the potential exacerbation of social jetlag levels. Studies conducted during the pandemic reveal a reduction of approximately half an hour in social jetlag, coupled with an improvement in sleep conditions for those who remained at home. Interestingly, these studies also observe shifts in chronotypes, as individuals lean towards adopting a night owl schedule.
How does it affect our sleep and health?
So, what are the implications of social jetlag? As much as we might wish to downplay it as mere fatigue accompanied by the occasional tardiness at work, the reality is more intricate. Researchers have unearthed enduring consequences tied to both our sleep patterns and overall well-being:
- Health Risks: Numerous studies propose that social jetlag carries an elevated risk of heart disease, obesity, and weight gain. To illustrate, a mere 2-hour discrepancy in social jetlag per week can lead to heightened levels of stress hormones, an increased resting heart rate, as well as a greater susceptibility to type-2 diabetes and obesity.
- Morning Grogginess and Daytime Sleepiness: A pronounced sense of morning grogginess (termed sleep inertia) or daytime sleepiness can ensue, potentially leading to subpar academic or professional performance and reduced ability to concentrate on tasks.
- Sleep Challenges: Heightened sleep latency, which refers to difficulties in falling asleep, and the onset of sleep apnea can be attributed to social jetlag.
- Emotional Well-being Impact: Social Jet Lag has the potential to diminish emotional well-being, often manifesting as mood swings, irritability, or even depressive states.
- Misinterpreted Health Issues: Individuals grappling with Social Jet Lag might unknowingly dismiss health concerns stemming from it as mere weariness. In other words, symptoms like headaches or spells of dizziness could be more intricately connected than initially perceived. We strongly recommend consulting a medical professional if any doubts arise.
In summary, the ramifications of Social Jet Lag stretch beyond surface-level fatigue, encompassing substantial health and sleep-related risks. As ongoing research delves deeper into these implications, it becomes increasingly crucial to acknowledge and address the multifaceted nature of this phenomenon.
Reset your circadian rhythm to beat your social jetlag
It would be an oversimplification to assume that countering Social Jet Lag merely requires indulging in an extended sleep session. Social jetlag sets off a negative cycle that demands interruption, and experts argue that attempting to remedy it by compensating with prolonged weekend lie-ins falls short. Instead, they propose a more effective approach: aligning your sleep habits and routine with your circadian rhythm:
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Strive to uphold a consistent wake-up and bedtime routine daily, including weekends. This synchronizes your sleep pattern with your inherent circadian rhythm. However, if the allure of sleeping in on off-days proves irresistible, don’t stress. Allow yourself a slight variation of 30 minutes to an hour, ensuring the core consistency of your schedule remains intact. Experts recommend an incremental adjustment of sleeping slightly earlier and waking slightly later than usual to gradually recalibrate your lifestyle and circadian rhythm.
- Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: Cultivating healthy sleep habits serves as a potent defense against social jetlag, promoting better sleep quality and circadian rhythm stability. While breaking old habits takes time and incremental progress, a favorable beginning involves crafting an optimal sleep environment in your bedroom—free from distractions, comfortable, and maintained at a cool temperature.
Additionally, reducing the risk of social jetlag often requires minor tweaks to your lifestyle. Minimize discrepancies between distinct sleep routines wherever possible. A more challenging step involves disconnecting from digital devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets an hour before bedtime, acknowledging the adverse relationship between the digital world and sleep.
- Embrace Sunlight and Exercise: Early morning exposure to natural sunlight acts as a cue for your body to awaken. A 2015 study revealed that as little as 15 minutes of morning light can recalibrate your body clock and promote earlier sleep onset. For individuals dealing with night shifts or dark winters, artificial light could mimic this effect and assist in adjusting the circadian rhythm.
Incorporating regular exercise during the morning or early afternoon can also positively influence sleep and diminish Social Jet Lag. However, avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as elevated body temperature prior to sleep isn’t conducive to optimal rest.
- Welcome Power Naps, Limit Long “Siestas”: Sleep experts advocate for brief power naps to combat afternoon energy slumps. These naps, lasting no more than 20 minutes, enhance cognitive function, memory, and stress reduction while curbing sleepiness. Exceeding this duration can disrupt your body clock, leading to pronounced sleep inertia (a heavy grogginess) and potential nighttime insomnia.
In essence, addressing social jetlag necessitates an approach rooted in thoughtful adjustments to sleep patterns, daily routines, exposure to light, exercise, and power nap practices. By methodically incorporating these strategies, one can counteract the adverse effects of Social Jet Lag and promote better sleep and overall well-being.
Social jetlag – more a case of when than how much we sleep
The emergence of Social Jet Lag underscores the prevalence of individuals with disrupted circadian rhythms, a condition known to have detrimental effects on both health and overall well-being. Additionally, it serves as a reminder that our approach to sleep is often one-dimensional. We tend to focus on the quantity of sleep, assuming that measures like catching up on missed sleep through a leisurely lie-in will effectively address any sleep-related concerns. However, the phenomenon of social jetlag brings to light the fact that the timing of sleep is equally crucial in terms of its impact on health.
Beyond merely tracking sleep duration, the Sleep Cycle app delves deeper by assisting users in comprehending their sleep patterns during the designated hours. This app not only provides insights into enhancing sleep efficiency and quality but also serves as a tool to promote improved health outcomes through enhanced sleep experiences.