What is a ‘social jet-lag’, and is it making you sick?

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We know that sleep is inherently important to our overall health and well-being. Despite this, we oftentimes can’t or don’t keep a proper sleep schedule. This can lead to a condition termed social jet-lag.

What is social jet-lag?

This condition was named in 2006 by Till Roenneberg. He was a chronobiologist at Munich, Germany’s Ludwig-Maximilian University. He was working at the Institute of Medical Psychology there when he found that he needed a term to describe the health issues he was seeing in people whose sleep schedules were irregular and disrupted.

Social jet-lag is a problem in modern life because of our schedules. The modern schedule often entails work or school 5 days a week, weekends off, and back to the weekly schedule Monday morning. This condition refers to anyone whose schedule has become disrupted, though.
There is a great temptation to stay up later on weekends to socialize, and to sleep in hopes of making up for the sleep they missed out on during the week. This is counterproductive because it disrupts the body’s sleep schedule and circadian rhythm.

This condition is specifically called ‘social’ jet-lag because it’s characterized by our natural, biological cycles of sleep and waking being opposed and disrupted by social wants or obligations.

Effects of social jet-lag

This pattern of disrupted, chaotic sleep has been the subject of numerous studies since its discovery. It’s scientifically prudent to acknowledge the fact correlation does not equal causation. There is still evidence that shows social jet-lag being correlated with some rather serious health issues or conditions.

Some issues that are seemingly linked to social jet-lag include:

  • Higher Body Mass Index
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Higher blood sugar
  • Higher risk of stroke or heart attacks

These issues may be impacted by the fact sleep patterns affect the body’s metabolism. Not being able to process food as thoroughly and quickly can easily lead to weight gain and higher blood sugar.

Ways to avoid social jet-lag

This condition can wreak havoc on the body. Here are some ways to help you keep healthy:

  • Wake up at the same time daily
  • Ensure access to natural light throughout your day
  • Get a dose of sunlight as early in the morning as possible to help your circadian rhythm
  • Try to avoid screentime directly before bed
  • Begin a bedtime ritual to help your mind and body relax so you can sleep more deeply

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine stresses the fact that regularity is one of the key components of healthy sleeping patterns, along with quality and timing.

Adults are recommended to get 7 hours or so of sleep a night on a consistent basis for optimal health. Consistency is key when it comes to sleep. When your sleep schedule is irregular, it causes your brain and body to have to reset the circadian rhythm constantly. Do your best to keep your sleep schedule on track.