What is Social Jet Lag? Do You Have It?

Disclaimer - Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment... Read more here

If constant social obligations are getting in the way of your sleep schedule, you may have social jet lag and not even realize it. However, unlike traditional jet lag, this sleep issue doesn’t result from traveling abroad, but rather busy social life.

Outings with friends, family, and work colleagues can throw off your sleep habits, leaving you feeling as though you just traveled over multiple time zones.

In this article, we’ll look at the science behind what causes this, important symptoms you should know about, and helpful tips on how you can maintain a social life without feeling jetlagged.

What’s Social Jet Lag?

The term was first used in 2006 by German researcher Till Roennenberg[1] to describe the variations in a person’s sleep pattern between the week and weekend that can leave them feeling fatigued.

Teenagers are especially prone to irregular sleep timing since they are more wired to be night owls, meaning they stay up late and sleep in on weekends while reverting to an earlier schedule during the school week.

So, why is it that adjusting our sleep habits on the weekends may leave us feeling groggy?

Illustration of a Teenager Sitting on Her Bed

Circadian rhythms are part of your internal body clock that signals when it is time to sleep and wake up, and their primary influence is light. However, changes to your schedule can alter this biological rhythm[2], resulting in sleep disorders or other health-related problems.

For example, if you regularly go to bed at 10:00 pm and wake up at 6:00 am during the week, your internal body clock becomes used to that schedule. However, when the weekend rolls around, and you stay up until midnight and sleep in until 9:00 am, this throws off your circadian rhythms. Then, your body can become even more impacted once you have to go back to your earlier schedule come Sunday night.

Social Jet Lag Effects

The primary symptom of social jet lag is excessive sleepiness. However, there are additional complications that could happen as well.

Worse Mood

One of the ways this form of social fatigue can impact your life and well being is by making you more susceptible to negative moods and behaviors, which could result in poor relationships with your colleagues, friends, and family.

During a 2020 study[3], researchers examined just over 1400 Japanese workers. Their ages ranged from 18 to 78. They found that the greater social jet lag a participant had, the more likely that person was to experience depressive symptoms.

Heart Disease

This is another possible complication of this condition. This can be particularly dangerous since many cases go undiagnosed until a person experiences symptoms[4], some of which could be fatal. These symptoms include a heart attack, chest palpitations (Arrhythmia), and heart failure.

Health experts say that for every hour of jet lag, your risk of developing heart disease increases by 11 percent[5]. Other cardiovascular disease risk factors are diabetes, being overweight, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.

Illustration of Tom and His Heart Having High Blood Pressure

Obesity

Obesity is also considered a possible side effect of social jet lag. Poor sleep quality is linked to a higher BMI – or body mass index. Since social jet lag can cause chronic sleep deprivation, experts warn it may increase your chances of developing obesity[6].

Health conditions that are linked to excessive weight include cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds that this also results in higher medical costs, with adults who are considered to be obese paying an estimated $1,429 more[7] than those of a healthy weight.

Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body’s ability to process food for energy is impaired, resulting in higher blood sugar (glucose) levels. There are two forms of this, Type 1 and Type 2.

Meanwhile, metabolic syndrome is described as a combination of conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, increased fat around the waist, and irregular cholesterol levels.

A 2017 study[8] found that social jet lag could double your chance of developing metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.

Read More: The Link Between Diabetes and Sleep

Memory and Cognitive Issues

Another reason to avoid social jet lag? This condition could negatively affect your memory and cognitive abilities.

Do you notice on days when you have a sleep debt from the night before, you experience a sort of brain fog? That is what experts[9] warn could happen when we are early birds during the week and night owls on the weekend.

That brain fog could be detrimental for employees and students, who could see their work or school performance worsen as a result.

Illustration of a Group of Students in Class

How to Get Rid of Social Jet Lag

The good news is that you don’t have to give up time with your friends and family to curb this issue. However, you can take proactive steps to be more mindful of your rest so that you can stay social without the jet lag.

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Since the cause of social jet lag is discrepancies in our sleep schedules and sleep duration, experts say one of the best ways to stop jet lag is to stick to the same schedule on weekdays and weekends.

More than likely, you’re going to bed and waking up earlier during the week, so if that’s the case, try adhering as closely to that timeline as you can over the weekend. This may require some extra diligence, but considering the potential health consequences, it’s worth a shot.

No Screen Time Before Bed

To help you fall asleep on time, health professionals recommend cutting off your screen time before you go to bed. This is because devices such as cell phones and computers emit a blue light that can suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. 2020 research[10] found that limiting blue light exposure during the evening helped advance melatonin production and sleep onset.

Learn More: How Technology Impacts Sleep Quality

keep the gadgets out illustration

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a treatment for it?

While there’s no magic pill to cure social jet lag, the upside is you should be able to reverse the effects of a sleep debt by keeping a consistent sleep schedule.

Does Your Sleep Chronotype Make You Jetlagged?

While the circadian rhythms manage physiological signals to help you sleep and wake up, such as melatonin production, your chronotype refers to the specific type of internal clock[11] you have.

The four sleep chronotypes are bear, lion, wolf, and dolphin. Bears are the most common and represent those who sleep after the sun sets and are up after sunrise. Lions sleep earlier and wake up earlier than bears.

Wolves are essentially another name for “night owls”. These folks tend to lag in the morning and are more productive later in the day. The rarest chronotype is the dolphin, which does not maintain a regular sleep-wake timetable.

Four People With Dolphin, Lion, Bear and Wolf Prints on Their Shirts

For example, during adolescence[12], people have a later (wolf) chronotype, which may explain why it is harder for teenagers to go to bed early. Some experts say this is further proof that delaying school start times could be beneficial for teens.

This also suggests that for those of all ages, understanding your chronotype could help you find your ideal schedule.

Sources and References:

  • [1] David G. Ingram MD, Kevin C. Smith PhD, “What the Heck Is Social Jet Lag and Why It’s Harmful to Your Teen”, Childrens Mercy, 2019
  • [2] “Circadian Rhythms”, National Institute of General Medical Science, January 21, 2021
  • [3] Zobida Islam, Huanhuan Hu, Shamima Akter, Keisuke Kuwahara, Takeshi Kochi, Masafumi Eguchi, Kayo Kurotani, et al., “Social Jetlag is Associated with an Increased Likelihood of Having Depressive Symptoms among the Japanese Working Population: The Furukawa Nutrition and Health Study”, National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • [4] “About Heart Disease”, Centers for Disease Control and Preventio, January 13, 2021
  • [5] “Social Jet Lag Is Associated with Worse Mood, Poorer Health and Heart Disease”, Science Daily, 2017
  • [6] Till Roenneberg, Karla V. Allebrandt, Martha Merrow, Céline Vetter, “Social Jetlag and Obesity”, 2012
  • [7] “Adult Obesity Facts”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 7, 2021
  • [8] Anitra DM. Koopma, Simone P. Rauh, Esther van ‘t Riet, Lenka Groeneveld, Amber A. van der Heijden, Petra J. Elders, Jacqueline M. Dekker, et al., “The Association Between Social Jetlag, the Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in the General Population: The New Hoorn Study”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2017
  • [9] “Social Jet Lag Harms Memory, Mood and More”, Chronobiology
  • [10] Giulia Zerbini, Thomas Kantermann, Martha Merrow, “Strategies to Decrease Social Jetlag: Reducing Evening Blue Light Advances Sleep and Melatonin”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2020
  • [11] “What Are Sleep Chronotypes & Which One Are You?”, St. Joseph Health, February 23, 2021
  • [12] “Sleep-wake Rhythms Vary Widely with Age as Well as Amongst Individuals of a Given Age”, Science Daily, 2017
Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

Sleep Advisor