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What is Social Jet Lag, and Do You Have it?

by BetterSleep
Dec 30 • 3 min read
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Social jet lag is a relatively new term coined to describe how our social obligations interfere with how we sleep. If you find yourself trying to catch up on the weekends, getting up earlier than feels natural, or accumulating hours of sleep debt, you may have social jet lag. But you can do something about it.

Social Jet Lag

Social jet lag occurs when your sleep habits don’t coincide with your natural circadian cycle. This is the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. It largely responds to light and dark, which is why we naturally sleep at night and remain awake during the day.

Everyone has their unique body clock—chronotype—that provides some variation to this general rule. Some people thrive later at night and naturally wake up later. Others like to be up early and go to bed early.

Social demands force you to wake up and go to sleep at certain times that may fall outside your natural rhythm. Work, school, and social engagements like parties and nights out, disrupt the natural cycle.

This leads to sleep debt, which describes inadequate sleep and social jet lag. It’s like flying through several time zones, hence the term. Travel-related jet lag is something you can adapt to after a couple of days. Social jet lag is more harmful because it persists unless you change your habits.

Do I Have Social Jet Lag?

If you don’t go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day, you probably have social jet lag. Most people do. Those most likely to suffer from social jet lag are people with the night owl chronotype.

People who naturally fall asleep later in the day and sleep in are forced into an early schedule because of work or school. They tend to build up a lot of sleep debt during the week and try to compensate on the weekends.

Is Social Jet Lag Bad for Health?

Numerous studies have found that social jet lag can be harmful to health in several ways. A large study of more than 65,000 people found that the more social jet lag and sleep debt a person has, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese. Other studies have found a connection to heart disease and overall poorer health. Social jet lag is also harmful to mental health. It is associated with increased symptoms of depression.

Treating and Managing Social Jet Lag

Treating social jet lag is a matter of avoiding it. You cannot catch up on sleep debt, but you can prevent it by going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day, even on weekends and days off.

Falling asleep at a designated time isn’t easy for everyone. If you struggle to sleep when you should, try some of the content on Better Sleep. Start with the questionnaire to determine your chronotype. This will give you your ideal wake and sleep times.

To get to sleep at the right time, use meditations like the “Military Method for Sleep” or the “Mindfulness Meditation for Sleep.” A bedtime story can help too. Listen to “The Dreamer Chronicles” or “Transcanadian Train Journey” for a relaxing distraction that will help you drift off more easily.

Social jet lag is a real problem that most people have. The good news is that you can do something about it. Work on good sleep hygiene and prioritize a regular schedule to optimize sleep and wellness.

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