It’s Monday morning and the alarm clock goes off. You hit snooze a few times and manage to crawl out of bed only to realize that you don’t feel rested from the 8 hours (or less) of sleep you got last night. It is going to take a lot of coffee to get you through this week. Or maybe getting up is not a problem but somewhere in the week, you feel as if you are not firing on all cylinders and performing at your best. Sound familiar? You probably suffer from “social jet lag.”
Results of a new study show that social jet lag has emerged as an important circadian marker for health and related issues. Social jet lag occurs when you go to bed and wake up later on weekends than during the week. It is associated with poorer health, worsened mood, decreased performance, increased sleepiness, and chronic fatigue. The majority of people, 85 percent to be exact, tend to have this habit and it is taking a substantial negative toll on your health. These effects are coined “social jet lag” and this study reveals that these effects include long-term health issues like increased risk of heart disease. The study demonstrated that each hour of social jet lag resulted in an 11 percent increase in risk. Earlier research also includes a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. These effects are independent of sleep duration and insomnia symptoms, which are both connected to social jet lag and health.
"These results indicate that sleep regularity, beyond sleep duration alone, plays a significant role in our health," said lead author Sierra B. Forbush, an undergraduate research assistant in the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "This suggests that a regular sleep schedule may be an effective, relatively simple, and inexpensive preventative treatment for heart disease as well as many other health problems."
According to a 2012 study by the professor of chronobiology at the University of Munich, Dr. Till Roenneberg, social jet lag is a syndrome caused by the mismatch between the body's biological clock and our actual sleep schedules. Dr. Roenneberg explains that each of us has a biological clock, but it is not the type we can set like watches. Internal clocks are “entrained” by daytime and nighttime and provide the optimal window for when people should sleep.
He told WebMD that he estimates two-thirds of the population experiences social jet lag. He coined the term because switching sleep schedules is similar to switching time zones. "The behavior 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," Roenneberg told WebMD. "Since this looks like almost a travel jet lag situation, we called it social jet lag."
Dr. Roenneberg’s analysis found people with more severe cases of social jet lag were much more likely to be obese. For every hour of social jet lag, the risk of being obese or overweight rose by 33 percent. What's more, people who chronically experience social jet lag are more likely to engage in other unhealthy habits.
"Waking up with an alarm clock is a relatively new facet of our lives," Roenneberg said in a news release. "It simply means that we haven't slept enough and this is the reason why we are chronically tired. Good sleep and enough sleep is not a waste of time but a guarantee for better work performance and more fun with friends and family during off-work times."
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. In addition to adequate duration, healthy sleep requires good quality, appropriate timing, and regularity. Here’s proof that optimizing your sleep schedule is good for your health and those around you.