Waking up early Monday – Friday for work leaves many people exhausted by the week’s end, and Saturday and Sunday become welcome respites to sleep in for however long we’d like. This yo-yoing sleep pattern — waking up early for work during the week and sleeping in late on the weekend — has been coined as “social jet lag,” and it’s something many people suffer from.
What It Is
Social jet lag is driven by two main factors. The “social” part of the term refers to the weekend tendency of staying out late socialising on Friday and Saturday nights. The “jet lag” part of the term refers to the disrupted, weekend sleeping pattern (sleeping in late versus getting up at the same weekday time).
Scientists used the term jet lag to partially describe this syndrome since the health effects are similar to those of actual jet lag: “The behaviour looks like if most people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo and on Monday they fly back.”1 If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you know how debilitating it can feel! Imagine the impact that can have on your health weekend after weekend.
What It Affects
Many people think that sleeping in late on the weekends is a way to compensate for missed sleep during the week — that’s not so! In fact, “social jet lag is associated with poorer health, heart disease, worse mood, and increased sleepiness and fatigue.”2 That’s not to mention other studies showing a correlation between social jet lag and obesity and diabetes.
This overall disruption to our sleeping patterns is, at its heart, a conflict between our “biological timing” and our “social timing.” That is, our natural circadian rhythm is at odds with the rhythm of our society — work schedules requiring us to rise early (sometimes before it’s light), office buildings with little natural light, and exposure to harsh lighting during the darker evening hours greatly impact the body’s ingrained rhythms.
Being forced awake before your body would naturally rise and being stimulated by light in the evening when your body should be winding down for sleep knocks you out of our biological rhythms. With this happening at least five out of the seven days a week, your body’s internal clock is hard pressed to work as it should. Since your circadian rhythm may already be imbalanced from your regular weekday schedule, sleeping in late on the weekends only serves to make things worse!
How to Avoid It
It’s unlikely that regular working hours are going to change anytime soon, so the best way to fight off social jet lag is maintaining a consistent sleep cycle.
What should a consistent sleep cycle look like? You’ll want to be getting at least seven hours of sleep per night (if not more) and maintaining a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up — that means going to bed and waking up around the same time every day, including weekend days.
Helping your body keep as close to its circadian rhythm as possible will also be a big help in avoiding social jet lag. The key to this is light exposure!
In the mornings you’ll want to have moderate exposure to light to help your body wake up. This can be hardest during the winter months when the sun rises quite late, so investing in a sun lamp or a sunrise clock is well worth your health. During the evening, try to limit your light exposure by keeping lights dim and adjusting your electronic devices to keep from giving off blue light.
Other small adjustments to your day, like avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, eating a lighter dinner earlier in the day and exercising regularly can also help make a big difference!
1Hosie, R. (6 June 2017). Social Jet Lag: The Exhausting Condition You Probably Don’t Know You Have. Retrieved 15 May 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-jet-lag-condition-exhausting-tiring-lie-in-sleep-pattern-weekends-a7774896.html
2Emswiler, K. (8 June 2017). “Social Jet Lag” Happens Every Week — And It Could Cost You Your Health. Retrieved 15 May 2018, from https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/What-Social-Jet-Lag-43616056