Falling victim of social jet lag?

With busy week schedules, it is common habit to catch up on sleep over the weekend by sleeping in with the absence of an alarm clock. Later bed times are also a common weekend occurrence, either out of personal preference or as a result of a social engagement. This sleep time mismatch between the work days (week day) and non-work days (weekend) is referred to as social jet lag; a temporary and typically repetitive form of circadian misalignment.

Representation of the shift between week day and weekend sleep-wake schedule.

People with an evening chronotype (night owls) are particularly at risk of social jet lag, with greater differences between their week day and weekend sleep-wake schedule. With a preference for a later sleep time in relation to the 24-hour day/night period, evening chronotypes tend to be at a disadvantage in regards to the society’s demands for work and school hours. As such, their sleep period tends to be more restricted during the week day, while on the weekend, there is a tendency to follow their internal clock and preference to go to bed and wake up at a later time.

Although extra time in bed over the weekend can help to alleviate some of the accumulated sleep debt, this disruption to the rhythmic activity of our circadian rhythm does have repercussions over time. For one, it makes it harder to re-adjust to the weekly schedule, a contributor to the ‘Monday Blues’. Circadian rhythms also play a role in much more than maintaining a steady sleep-wake pattern and are involved in various aspects of our health and wellness. Continuous misalignment of our circadian rhythm through recurring social jet lag, much like the effects of shift work, is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and even cancer.

So what is the best thing to do? Ideally, it is to maintain a consistent schedule, even on the weekend. Now this doesn’t mean to completely avoid shifting your sleep time from time to time to accommodate a social engagement, or to not sleep in an extra hour or two when the day does not require a specific wake time. Instead to try to gain a better balance between the sleep-wake schedule of the week day and the weekend. As much as possible, attempt to get sufficient sleep time as well as a similar sleep-wake schedule on a nightly basis. With time, the routine will not only make it easier to wake up on weekdays, but you may also find yourself to be less tired and more productive come the end of the work week.


Selected References

  • Abbott, S.M., Malkani, R.G., Zee, P.C. (2017). Circadian Dysregulation in Mental and Physical Health. In M.H. Kryger, T. Roth, & W.C. Dement (Eds.), Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 6th edition, (pp 405-413). St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders.
  • Wittmann, M., Dinich, J., Merrow, M., & Roenneberg, T. (2006). Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time. Chronobiology International, 23(1-2), 497-509.
  • Roenneberg, T., Allebrandt, K. V., Merrow, M., & Vetter, C. (2012). Social jetlag and obesity. Current Biology, 22(10), 939-943.
  • Parsons, M. J., Moffitt, T. E., Gregory, A. M., Goldman-Mellor, S., Nolan, P. M., Poulton, R., & Caspi, A. (2015). Social jetlag, obesity and metabolic disorder: investigation in a cohort study. International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), 842-848.
  • Haraszti, R. Á., Ella, K., Gyöngyösi, N., Roenneberg, T., & Káldi, K. (2014). Social jetlag negatively correlates with academic performance in undergraduates. Chronobiology International, 31(5), 603-612.

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