Just like jet lag from travelling across time zones, social jet lag will have you feeling out of sync, experiencing difficulties sleeping, waking up groggy and unrested, struggling with energy dips through your day, craving unhealthy food and caffeine and fighting off the blues.
What is social jet lag?
Social jet lag refers to the discomfort resulting from irregular sleep habits, such as, going to sleep late, but getting up early for work and sleeping late at the weekends, or else going to sleep early and waking up early in the week but doing the opposite on the weekend.
Is social jet lag bad for my health?
In the short term, irregular sleep habits can cause tiredness and insomnia (like travel jet lag) as well as weak immune resilience and more moodiness. In the long term, social jet lag is associated with more serious health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity.
Does everyone have social jet lag?
No, social jet lag is more prevalent in people known as night owls, that is, those who like to stay up late, but still need to get up early for work the next morning. These people accumulate a sleep debt during the working week that they then may try to make up for on the weekend by sleeping late in the mornings. This creates the same lag as if they'd crossed time zones and the same adjustment is needed biologically to get in sync with the variation in cycle.
Those who switch their sleep habits the most between working days and days off will suffer the most jet lag with grogginess, sleepiness and sleeplessness.
How can you avoid social jet lag?
Ideally, you would go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, allowing yourself enough time for sleep (7-9 hours). This regularity would allow your body to optimise your internal circadian rhythm for the best quality sleep and the best alertness during the day. The regularity allows your body to prepare for events hours before in order to maximise their impact. So, if your bedtime is 10.30pm, your body will be preparing for sleep a couple of hours before that time by releasing melatonin, which prompts a cascade of processes that takes the body into the repair and rest phase of its circadian rhythm, meaning that the quality of your sleep is maximised.
If you consider yourself a night owl, you can try to retrain or entrain your circadian rhythm to an earlier sleep time, just as you would have to if you crossed time zones. In order to do this, try eating earlier in the evening, switching off screens and other sources of bright light, read, have a relaxing bath, so that you slowly train your body to go to sleep earlier in order to get more sleep during the week so that you don't accumulate a sleep debt for the weekend.
The occasional late night or weekend lie-in will not cause significant social jet lag as long as regular sleep patterns are the norm, just as travel jet lag won't cause long-term effects as long as we are not crossing time zones every week.
The right nutritional support (try MAGNESSENCE) can support you through a bout of social jet lag by counteracting the extreme feelings of fatigue and help realign your sleep habits to your advantage.
Wittmann M , et al. Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time. Chronobiol Int. 2006;23(1-2):497-509.