Although many of us are familiar with “jet lag” – the negative disruptions to sleep and wake cycles after traveling across time zones – a lesser known phenomenon called “social jet lag” can occur without ever leaving home and can adversely impact your health and performance in similar ways.

While traveling across time zones is an obvious cause of jet lag, social jet lag can be caused by shift work, inconsistent bedtimes, and even the common practice of sleeping in on the weekend to compensate for less than ideal amounts of sleep during the week.

Our bodies have a circadian clock that controls most processes that occur during a 24-hour day – from chemical reactions to energy levels, brain function, metabolism, mood, sleep, and more. It’s your circadian clock that helps you fall asleep at night and wakes you up at your body’s desired wake time.

If optimally working, then you wouldn’t even need an alarm clock – imagine that.

But if you are like most people, then you go to bed and wake up at different times on work or school nights compared to “weekend” nights. This inconsistency of nightly bedtimes and daily wake-up times – usually related to the occurrence of social events or work schedules – has been coined social jet lag, and it can lead to chronic sleep loss – even if you spend some weekend afternoons playing catch-up.

Social jet lag is more common than you may think. Research has found that 1/3 of us report two hours or more of social jet lag, and 2/3 of us report at least one hour of social jet lag on work nights.

Its effect has been compared to flying west across time zones on a Friday evening and flying back east for Monday morning because that’s how tired you feel when your body’s circadian rhythms are off. The difference, though, is travel jet lag is temporary, whereas social jet lag can be chronic – lasting weeks, months, or even years. 

So, we can just catch up with naps on the weekend, right? Wrong.

Reversing social jet lag’s sleep debt with oversleeping or napping on the weekend actually might cause more harm than good. The irregular nightly patterns of sleep caused by social jet lag have been directly linked to chronic fatigue, irritable mood, and 11% increased risk of heart disease; and indirectly linked to disruptions in other physiological systems.

Researchers also believe social jet lag is a factor that contributes to the obesity epidemic, because chronic sleep loss is associated with an increased body mass index (BMI).1

What can you do to avoid social jet lag and its negative health effects?

Thorne has made a short list of healthy habits that can help to reset your circadian clock and get you back on track:

  • Find a reasonable time to go to bed each night so you can fit in eight or more hours of sleep, while also maintaining your favorite social activities – TV viewing parties, dining with friends, workouts, etc.
  • Maintain that same schedule on weekend nights, because waking up at the same time on the weekend will make Monday morning a little easier.
  • In addition to the amount of sleep (at least eight hours), focus on obtaining high-quality sleep. This can include changing your sleep environment (lighting, temperature, bedding), limiting electronic usages, adding nutrition to support sleep, changing your workout timing, and more. 
  • Eat for sleep – meaning, choose nutrition that helps relax your muscles and brain so you can sleep when the time comes. Your diet and supplement choices play an important role in promoting sleep quantity and quality. 
  • Maintain a regular exercise regimen. You might come home from work mentally exhausted, but it’s also important to be physically exhausted. Regular exercise helps negate the adverse effects of social jet lag and supports weight goals and a healthy BMI. 
  • Stay hydrated. Only drink caffeine-free fluids before going to bed – enough for you to stay hydrated, but (hopefully) not have to get up to use the restroom. Start with 8-12 ounces as a trial to determine the volume that works best for you. 
  • Thorne’s sleep support productsRecoveryPro™, Melaton-3, and Multi-Vitamin Elite – can be incorporated into your nightly routine to support restful sleep.

If you have questions about the quality of your sleep or how your lifestyle is impacting your sleep cycle  then a Thorne Sleep Test can help you learn more about the hormones that affect your sleep.

You can order the test online, collect your samples in the privacy of your home, and get your results with an easy-to-understand analysis and personalized recommendations you can discuss with your health-care practitioner.


References

1.       Roenneberg T, Allebrandt K, Merrow M, Vetter C. Social jet lag and obesity. Curr Biol 2012;22(10):939-943.