Social Jetlag

Do you struggle to get to sleep early on a Sunday in preparation for work after having a relaxing weekend with some much deserved lie ins? Do you need an alarm clock to wake you up during the week and still feel exhausted until that first caffeine hit? If the answer to either of these is yes, then you may be suffering from ‘social jetlag’.

What is Social Jetlag?

Many of us have experienced temporary sleep deprivation, irritability and a feeling of disorientation caused by jetlag after a long flight and travelling rapidly across time zones. This is the result of our internal time keeping system and rhythms becoming out of sync with the change in environment.

Less well known, though often equally as harmful, is that we put our body’s rhythms through similar stress and misalignment when our sleep patterns on the weekends differ to the weekdays. Most commonly, people go to bed and wake up later on the weekends than during the week. This disruption, coined ‘social jetlag' in 2004 by German Professor Till Roenneberg is estimated to affect at least 2/3rds of the population.

The severity of social jetlag varies depending on how different your weekend sleeping patterns are to that of your weekdays. Night owls, for example, often experience greater social jetlag than their lark counterparts, as they tend to go to bed later and sleep in longer on the weekends to catch up on lack of sleep during the week. To put this into context, waking up at 10 am on the weekends and 7 am during the week is the equivalent to flying from London to Dubai on a Friday and then back to London for the week.

Social Jetlag and Health

Though the health consequences are not as severe as those caused by shift work or travel jetlag, they’re unfortunately worse than tiredness and dark circles. A slight disruption in sleep patterns is similar to the effects of chronic sleep loss, both causing increased risk of heart disease and weight gain. Researchers from the University of Munich found that one hour of social jetlag increased the risk of obesity by 33%. Mental health is also affected by this phenomenon, with increased risk of depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Studies also show that social jetlag causes loss in concentration, memory and leads to poor academic performance.

Apparently, it’s not just the lack of sleep caused by social jetlag that effects our health. A study conducted by Professor Andrew Philips at Monash University demonstrated that undergraduates with irregular sleep patterns had poorer quality of sleep than those with consistent sleep patterns, even though they slept for the same amount of time overall.

The Solution

The solution is fairly obvious, go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time each and every day. Though if you’re like 66% of the world’s population this may be easier said than done. The social pressures and the desire to ‘catch up’ on sleep over the weekends is often too tempting. However, try being disciplined with yourself for a month and see how you feel. You are likely to find that the joy of being well rested, focused and energised outweighs the lethargic and tired feeling experienced from social jetlag.

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