Do You Suffer from Social Jet Lag?

Do You Suffer from Social Jet Lag?

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Taryn Williford
Sep 22, 2015
(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

A little easy math for you this morning: Take the time you usually wake up on the weekends, and then subtract the time you wake up during the week. Is it an hour or more? You might be suffering from social jet lag.

As frequent travelers know, jet lag is that chronologically-off feeling you get after a long-distance plane ride where your body hasn't yet caught up to the local time. Even a small shift in your sleep schedule from traveling can have effects on your mood and health. And guess what? The same thing happens when you sleep in every weekend.

What is Social Jet Lag?

Researchers in Europe coined the term "social jet lag" to describe people who keep misaligned sleep patterns from week to weekend.

Social jet lag usually happens to self-described "night owls"–people who biologically prefer to keep late hours and wake up late as a result–who are forced to wake early during the week for work or other externally-imposed obligations. They wake early on work days because they have to, but then stay up late and sleep in on weekends like their bodies want to. They're suffering from social jet lag–as if they'd flown from New York to Paris at the start of every week.

The effects of social jet lag range from minor changes in mood to an increased risk for obesity. The researchers who coined the term surveyed 65,000 adults on their sleep habits and found that participants' body mass index (BMI) increased as the gap between their weekday and weekend "time zones" widened. There was also a "striking correlation" between sleep-deprived night owls (what the study calls "late chronotypes") and smoking.

How to Re-Align Your Sleep Schedule

If you suffer from social jet lag, the remedy is easy, in principle: Try to re-align your weekend and weekday sleep patterns. That means either waking earlier on Saturdays and Sundays to better match workday habits, or adjusting your weekday schedule to accommodate your night owl tendencies.

The latter idea, of course, is more biologically desirable, but easier said than done thanks to strict work hours and family demands. But if you're finding that your social jet lag is impacting your well-being, it might be worthwhile to bring up your concerns (and this CNN article about the study) to encourage more diverse body clock acceptance in your workplace.

How do you cope with social jet lag?

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