Social Jet Lag

How many hours of sleep do you clock on a regular weekday? And how many hours on weekends? The habit of accumulating sleep debt during work nights and trying to sleep it off in the weekends is alarmingly common. It is problematic for two reasons. For once, lack of sleep itself is harmful to your health. Secondly, your body is not built to handle sudden changes in sleep-wake rhythm, and irregular sleeping behaviors can get your biological systems messed up.

The misalignment between weekday and weekend rhythms is called social jet lag. It is very similar to regular jet lag, but instead of traveling, the primary cause of social jetlag is usually your social life and weekend activities. When you travel through time zones by plane, your circadian rhythm gets in trouble. It is still tuned to the old rhythm, and it can take several days to adjust to the daily rhythm in the current environment. Many people experience similar misalignment between their circadian rhythm and the expected weekday rhythm on Monday morning. If you stayed up a bit later in the weekend, the difference could easily be several hours. Think about this: if you normally wake up at seven to work but like to sleep till noon on weekends, the effect is similar to flying from London to New York every single Friday (and back to London on Sunday evening).

Switching to a completely different rhythm in a single night doesn't come without a toll. The immediate effects of social jet lag are familiar to everyone who has tried to survive through a long and harsh Monday at work after a particularly intense weekend. Besides the obvious effects of exhaustion and tiredness, there are many indirect and less evident effects, some of which can last for several days. These might include, for instance, insomnia, headaches, abdominal pain, memory issues, and impaired physical and cognitive performance. Prolonged social jetlag increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and vascular diseases.

Habits From This Lesson

Additional Reading

Lunsford-Avery, J. R., Engelhard, M. M., Navar, A. M., & Kollins, S. H. (2018). Validation of the Sleep Regularity Index in Older Adults and Associations with Cardiometabolic Risk. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1–11.

Partinen, M. (2012). Aikaerorasitus (jet lag). Terveyskirjasto. Duodecim.

Roenneberg, T., & Merrow, M. (2016). The circadian clock and human health. Current Biology, 26(10), R432–R443.

Roenneberg, T., Allebrandt, K. V., Merrow, M., & Vetter, C. (2012). Social jetlag and obesity. Current Biology, 22(10), 939–943.

Wittmann, M., Dinich, J., Merrow, M., & Roenneberg, T. (2006). Social jetlag: Misalignment of biological and social time. Chronobiology International, 23(1–2), 497–509.

Wong, P. M., Hasler, B. P., Kamarck, T. W., Muldoon, M. F., & Manuck, S. B. (2015). Social Jetlag, chronotype, and cardiometabolic risk. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 100(12), 4612–4620.

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