Do you need an alarm clock to wake up for work each day, but prefer to sleep in on the weekends? You might be suffering from social jet lag.
The term “social jet lag” simply refers to the discrepancy between your natural body clock and the schedule needed to keep your job and other social responsibilities. If your sleep schedule differs on the days you’re working and when you’re free, this is a good sign that there’s a mismatch.
Social jet lag is typically caused by staying up late socializing (or watching TV) causing you to sleep in late on the days you have off. For many, these two schedules can be so different that your body may feel like it is constantly flipping between two time zones.
The problem is that while you might think that catching up on sleep on your free days is beneficial, there are studies that have shown that it can actually be harmful to your health and your waistline.
Preliminary results of a recent study show that not only does this pattern lead to sleep deprivation, but this inconsistent sleep schedule is also associated with poorer health, chronic fatigue, and irritable moods. Researchers also found that each hour of social jet lag is associated with an 11 percent increase in the risk for heart disease independent of sleep duration or insomnia (1).
Another study found that the larger the difference between your work and free day sleeping is, the more likely you are to be overweight or obese. On the other hand, those who go to sleep and wake up at relatively the same time each day were three times less likely to be overweight or obese (2).
While this study does not prove that social jet lag directly causes weight gain, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows a strong correlation between the two factors. Researchers have also previously linked improper sleeping patterns with a slew of health problems such as obesity, depression, and chronic disease, including diabetes.
Eating habits during the late hours of the night also tend to be associated with poor health contributing to the problem of social jet lag. During the time of night when you are usually asleep, your body doesn’t want to be consuming a late-night meal, which contributes to weight gain. Moreover, people who are tired also tend to avoid exercise, and are more likely to drink alcohol, excessive amounts of caffeine, and smoke cigarettes.
These studies add to the body of work suggesting that not only is it important to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but to make the effort to keep your sleeping schedule consistent. While there will always be special occasions, or hectic weeks where your beauty rest becomes less of a priority, these tips can help you get the best night’s sleep:
- Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes.
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants later in the day.
- Keep your bedroom dark, with phone and tablet screens turned off.
- Drink a protein shake in the morning.
- Supplement with melatonin before bed.
- Forbush S, Fisseha E, Gallagher R, Hale L, Malone S, Patterson F, Branas C, Barrett M, Killgore WD, Gehrels J, Alfonso-Miller P, Grandner MA. Sociodemographics, Poor Overall Health, Cardiovascular Disease, Depression, Fatigue, and Daytime Sleepiness Associated With Social Jetlag Independent of Sleep Duration and Insomnia. Sleep, Volume 40, Issue suppl_1, 28 April 2017, Pages A396–A397, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleepj/zsx050.1066
- Wittmann M, Dinich J, Merrow M, Roenneberg T. Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time. Chronobiol Int. 2006;23(1-2):497-509.