Most of us would agree that jet lag is unpleasant. Depending on how many time zones you’ve changed, It usually takes at least a couple of days to start feeling like yourself again when you take trip. Obviously, having jet lag from traveling is inevitable and often worth it. But in general, if you had the option to avoid jet lag, you’d probably take it, right? Well what if I told you that the vast majority of people give themselves jet lag every single week?
Stay up later on weekends than on weekdays?
Sleep later on weekends than on weekdays?
If you answered yes to one of these questions (although most will answer yes to both), you’re giving yourself jet lag-like symptoms every week. Monday and Tuesday of each week are your jet lag days, and just when you start adjusting to them, boom - the weekend hits again and it restarts the cycle.
In today's fast-paced and constantly connected world, the demands of work, social activities, and personal commitments often disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycles. Known as “social jet lag”, this disruption occurs when our sleep patterns are not aligned with our social obligations, to include late night work schedules, social events, or simply just staying up late because “it’s the weekend, why not?”. While social jet lag may seem like a minor inconvenience, its effects can have a potentially profound impact on health and overall well-being. This article highlights some of the causes and negative effects of social jet lag, as well as some ways to mitigate it.
What is Social Jet Lag?
To comprehend the causes and effects of social jet lag, an understanding of the concept itself is step 1. Social jet lag refers to the misalignment between an individual's biological clock, or circadian rhythm, and their social or work-related obligations. This misalignment can occur due to various factors, including irregular work shifts, late-night social activities, Netflix binges, and social media scroll-a-thons. The primary causes of social jet lag can be categorized into three main areas:
- Work-related Factors: Irregular or rotating work shifts, long hours, and night shifts can wreak havoc on our sleep patterns. These disruptions can lead to difficulty falling asleep, frequent wake ups, and insufficient sleep duration. Although this isn’t fully in our control, many people choose to work late. Ironically, you could get more done and be more efficient if you didn’t sacrifice sleep for work on a regular basis.
- Social Factors: Late-night social engagements, such as dinners, hitting the bars, concerts, or other events often result in altered sleep schedules. These activities can delay bedtime, resulting either in insufficient sleep and subsequent fatigue or sleeping in the following day. While going out with friends and socializing is a healthy activity, doing it late at night every weekend isn’t. There are no written rules against a 5:30 dinner reservation (eating earlier will also disrupt sleep less).
- Technological Factors: The prevalence of electronic entertainment, particularly smartphones, video games, and streaming services has contributed to increased social jet lag. The blue light emitted by these devices suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, making it harder to fall asleep at night. Spending several hours in the late evening (or even into early morning) watching a Netflix series or “death-scrolling” isn’t serving your health or personal development.
Negative Effects of Social Jet Lag
Just tough it out. You’ll be fine, right? Well, there’s more to it than just feeling like you “have a case of the Mondays” every week. Social jet lag can negatively affect both physical and mental well-being. Being mindful of these effects is crucial for addressing the issue and minimizing its impact. The following are some of the prominent negative effects associated with social jet lag:
- Disrupted Sleep Patterns: The misalignment of weekly sleep schedules due to social jet lag can lead to irregular sleep patterns, to include difficulty falling asleep and waking up, poor sleep quality, and reduced total sleep duration. This disruption can impair cognitive function, mood, physical recovery (aka gains), memory consolidation, and emotional regulation.
- Fatigue and Daytime Sleepiness: Insufficient sleep caused by social jet lag can result in persistent fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. This can negatively impact productivity, concentration, and overall quality of life. If you feel like you’re always behind the power curve on Mondays (and potentially Tuesdays), it may be due to your weekend sleep habits.
- Mood Disorders: Social jet lag has been linked to an increased risk of depression and bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters and hormones, leading to mood instability and emotional dysregulation.
- Impaired Cognitive Function: Lack of quality sleep due to social jet lag can impair important abilities like cognitive function, memory, attention, and decision-making abilities.
- Increased Risk of Chronic Health Conditions: Chronic sleep disruption caused by social jet lag has been associated with an increased risk of various health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and impaired immune function. These adverse effects stem from hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and metabolic dysregulation. Poor sleep makes, literally, everything in life more difficult.
- Reduced Well-being and Quality of Life: The cumulative effects of social jet lag can significantly impact overall well-being and quality of life. Increased stress, decreased life satisfaction, and a higher likelihood of burnout are common consequences of chronic sleep disturbances.
How to Mitigate Social Jet Lag
While social jet lag poses significant challenges, there’s hope. Most people unknowingly give themselves social jet lag on a weekly basis. But just being aware of it is only half the battle. Like anything in life that’s important and impactful, some effort and sacrifice is required in order to reap the benefits. Here are some ways to attack it:
- Maintain Consistent Sleep Schedule: Establishing a regular sleep routine can help synchronize your internal clock. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, to include weekends. This is difficult for a lot of people. But being depressed, unable to make sound decisions, living with chronic health problems, and always dreading Mondays is also difficult. This one is listed first, because without it, the rest of the information below won’t help much.
- Schedule Early Dinners and Social Gatherings When Able: Becoming a hermit and never interacting with friends in place of going to sleep at the same time each weekend isn’t healthy either. But if you’re able to at least limit the frequency with which you go to late night social events, you’re setting yourself up for success. A great way to do this is to become the “scheduler” (if you’re not already). Not only is making decisions and coming up with plans a sign of good character, but if you’re the one making the plans, you have the ability to shift them to earlier in the evening or afternoon. In other words, you improve your health by still being social and nurturing relationships, and take it a step further by still getting to bed on time.
- Limit PM Screen Time: Give yourself a hard, non-negotiable cutoff time for screens. This should be, at minimum, 1 hour before you go to bed. Not only is it easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole on your phone or watching YouTube videos and stay up 3 hours later than you wanted to, but looking at these devices before sleep will also impair sleep quality. The last hour before bed should include relaxing activities like reading, petting your dogs, or chatting with your spouse (about non-stressful topics).
- Create a Sleep-friendly Environment: Ensure that your bedroom is conducive to restful sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet, and cool (+ or - 65 degrees is ideal - over 70 is not) . Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillows, blackout curtains, and if you’re really serious, a mattress cooler like the chili-pad or eight sleep.
- Practice Relaxation Techniques: Engage in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, stretching, petting your dogs, or a warm shower before bed. These techniques can help calm the mind and promote a restful sleep. These work best when done in combination with a consistent bed time.
- Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: Good sleep hygiene includes avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, minimizing or avoiding alcohol within 3 hours of bed, getting morning sunlight, finishing your last meal at least 2 hours pre-bed, training hard, and creating a calming pre-sleep routine with one or more of the methods above. These practices, in combination with consistent sleep/wake times will enhance the quality of your sleep.
The prevalence of social jet lag has become a significant concern, not just because it makes Mondays a drag, but also because of its potential long term health ramifications. The modern world isn’t helping us fight it by any means, but with some awareness and effort, you can reduce the occurrence of it. The average person makes everything in their lives more difficult (fitness, health, work, relationships, mental health) by treating sleep as an afterthought. Prioritizing healthy sleep habits, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and adopting strategies to mitigate the disruption caused by sporadic sleep patterns is crucial not just for improving your Monday output, but also for your long term health. By acknowledging and addressing this issue, you’re setting yourself on the path to regaining control of your work week and your health.