What is ‘social jet lag’? And how to beat it

We should feel refreshed after a weekend away from our desks, but why is it that we end up feeling more fatigued than before? That might be what we call ‘social jet lag’

What is ‘social jet lag’? And how to beat it
Monday ‘meh’-ness which leaks into Tuesday tiredness after the weekend is all too common for us Monday-to-Friday workers. ‘Social jet lag’ isn’t about crossing time-zones, but instead explains the way we feel after our weekday-weekend sleep schedule irregularities.

What is ‘social jet lag’?

Social jet lag is when our normal sleep schedules (or circadian rhythm) are shaken up by later nights and longer lay-ins, usually during the weekend. The difference in sleep-wake times on weekdays and weekends, where our schedules temporarily change, can confuse our natural circadian rhythm and leave us feeling lethargic and lacklustre.
Think of it as your internal clock getting thrown out of whack: on weekdays, work, school, or routine generally keep us on a set schedule. But come the weekend, those late-night drinks or guilt-fee scrolling sessions sends our normal bedtime out the window. If your body is tuned to sleep at 10PM, but you stay up until midnight on Friday night, you're experiencing social jet lag. Similarly, sleeping in on weekends to 'catch up' on sleep also contributes to this phenomenon.
Social jet lag can also be a result of late night screen use, when you getting stuck doom-scrolling or Netflix binging some evenings in the week. We like to call this ‘scrolling jet lag’. You’re more likely to sleep for fewer hours if you use screens at night, as social media and streaming keeps you hooked.
 
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What are the symptoms of ‘social jet lag’?

The consequences of social jet lag go beyond just feeling tired. Studies by the National Institutes of Health link it to various issues, including:
  • Increased tiredness and fatigue: Feeling drained throughout the day, impacting productivity and mood.
  • Impaired cognitive function: Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, and making decisions.
  • Low mood and irritability: Increased stress and frustration due to disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Physical effects: Chronic social jet lag has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic issues and changes in appetite and bowel movements.
  • Weakened immune system: Increased susceptibility to illness due to being overtired.
 

How to avoid social jet lag

It’s hard to avoid the occasional late night. Humans are social creatures and spending time with friends and loved ones is arguably more important than getting to sleep dead on 10pm every night. Beating social jet lag isn’t just a game of catch up - you can’t sleep an extra 2 hours one night because you lost 2 hours the night before. The main thing is to keep consistency. Here’s few things you can do beat social jet lag:
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule as much as possible: This is the most important one. Even on weekends, try to go to bed and wake up within an hour or two of your weekday routine. Consistency is key to resetting your internal clock.
  1. Dim the lights and wind down before bed: Create a relaxing bedtime routine that signals to your body it's time to sleep. Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light they emit can suppress melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep.
  1. Get some sunlight: Exposure to natural light during the day helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Take a walk, have lunch outside, or simply open your curtains – let the sunshine in!
  1. Limit caffeine and alcohol: These substances can interfere with sleep quality, so avoid them close to bedtime.
  1. Create a relaxing weekend routine: Replace late-night screen binges with activities that promote relaxation, like reading, taking a bath, or spending time with loved ones.
  1. Don’t overcommit: It’s easy to say yes to everything, but try to balance late-night social or work activities with your sleep needs when you can.
  1. Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly, as these can positively impact your sleep cycle.
In our attempt to juggle the demands of our social and professional lives, we often neglect the natural needs of our bodies, like the 7 types of rest. Social jet lag is a modern issue, but by understanding it and taking proactive steps, we can minimise its impact. Remember, a balanced life is not just about managing time but also about respecting our body's natural rhythms.

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