Do You Have Social Jet Lag?

If you have ever experienced an irregular sleep schedule by staying up late and sleeping in, then you have experienced social jet lag. Sleeping at inconsistent hours over the weekend, known as "social jet lag," can put your health at risk. Even sleeping late to catch up does not lower your risk of experiencing health problems because of social jet lag.

This article will describe what factors lead to social jet lag, how it affects your health, and steps to take to improve your sleeping habits

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What Is Social Jet Lag?

Social jet lag occurs when you stay up later and then sleep in later on the weekends then you do on the weekdays. Changing the hours that you sleep from day-to-day affects your body’s circadian rhythm or its natural internal clock. 

Social jet lag affects the body similarly to travel jet lag. When you shift your sleeping hours, your body feels as though it is in a different time zone. This can make falling and staying asleep difficult. 

For example, if you stay up late on Saturday night and then sleep in on Sunday morning, you will likely have a hard time falling asleep on Sunday night. This is because your body has not been awake enough hours to feel tired at your usual Sunday bedtime. This likely makes waking up early on Monday morning difficult. 

Social Jet Lag and Health

Frequently changing your body’s internal clock doesn’t just cause daytime sleepiness. It can significantly impact your health as well. 

Weight Gain and Chronic Illness

Social jet lag has been linked with several chronic health problems. Changes in circadian rhythm caused by inconsistent sleeping hours cause changes in the circulatory system and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Social jet lag has also been linked to an increased risk for obesity and diabetes. A 2019 study found a link between social jet lag in adolescents and an increased risk of obesity. 

Social jet lag has also been found to affect the timing of hormone secretion and the activity of the immune cells in the body. These changes may be associated with the increased risk of chronic diseases and obesity. 

Individuals who regularly experience social jet lag are also more likely to smoke cigarettes and consume excess caffeine. These habits can significantly disrupt sleep. 

Depression, Mood Changes, and Cognition

A 2021 study found that people who experienced misaligned sleep cycles were more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who went to bed and woke up at the same time every day. The study found that the more participants changed their sleep schedules, the higher the risk of experiencing depression.

Social jet lag also affects academic performance. It’s important to note that adolescents and young adults are the most at risk for experiencing social jet lag. This means that their ability to learn new information at school could be impacted by their sleeping habits. 

Tips for Better Sleep

Fortunately, there are simple steps to take that can improve and even eliminate social jet lag. 

Sleep Hygiene

Focusing on your sleep hygiene is an important part of addressing social jet lag. Aim to go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends. A 2019 study found that when participants kept their sleep and wake times within 15 to 30 minutes of the same time each day, they reported better sleep, less depression, and less stress. Study participants were also able to improve their cognitive reaction time scores. 

There is nothing better than a cozy Sunday nap but proceed with caution. Sleeping more on the weekends can make falling asleep at night harder. Try to limit your nap to less than 20 minutes or recharge with a walk outside in the sun. 

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes that may improve social jet lag include:

  • Stress: If worried thoughts are keeping you up on Sunday nights, look into stress management techniques such as relaxation exercises and mindfulness. Meeting with a therapist may be helpful as well. 
  • Caffeine: If you tend to have trouble falling asleep at night on the weekends, try to limit your caffeine intake to morning hours only. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol can affect your sleep cycle, so try to limit it as much as possible.
  • Diet: Try to avoid eating rich, fatty foods right before bed. These foods take more energy to digest and can make falling asleep difficult. 
  • Exercise: Aim to get some physical activity every day to help your body feel tired at night. Try to avoid exercising right before bed because physical activity can be energizing. 

Summary

Social jet lag occurs when you go to bed later and wake up later on the weekends than you do on the weekdays. This can affect everyone at some point. Adolescents and young adults tend to have the highest rates of social jet lag. 

Social jet lag can have serious health consequences and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and decreased academic performance. To improve social jet lag, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. 

A Word from Verywell 

Social jet lag is a common problem that we all experience from time to time. If you change your regular sleep schedule on the weekends, it may be time to try to keep a more consistent schedule. While it may feel difficult to keep the same sleeping hours each day, you will likely notice the health benefits right away. If you’re concerned about your sleep quality, talk with your healthcare provider. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What age group has the highest prevalence of social jet lag?

    Social jet lag is most common in late adolescence and affects individuals aged 16 to 18 years the most. 

  • Does taking a nap help with social jet lag?

    While taking a nap may feel rejuvenating at the moment, it usually does not help with social jet lag. If you have been experiencing trouble falling asleep on the weekends, try to limit your naps. 

  • How can I learn my sleep chronotype?

    Sleep chronotype refers to your body’s natural inclination for when to sleep. This is usually referred to as being an early bird or a night owl. To understand your chronotype, consider when you feel most energized during the day and when you feel most tired. 

  • What is a normal sleep pattern for adults?

    Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. The hours that you sleep are not as important as keeping those hours consistent every night. 

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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