Is 'Social Jet Lag' Messing With Your Energy?
February 15, 2018
You miss a couple hours of sleep on Friday night, so you try to catch up by sleeping in later the next day. Saturday night: You stay up late with the latest season of Planet Earth (the lizards and snakes scene is truly incredible), and stay in bed even later the next day. Come Monday: You’re up at 7 a.m., struggling to crawl out of bed for work.
Sound familiar? While we covet sleep (see: all the Instagram memes devoted to loving one’s bed), we don’t tend to protect our time catching Zzz’s.
I was especially guilty of this before I had a baby. Before I became a mom, I typically managed to squeeze in at least seven hours of sleep each night, but exactly when that sleep happened could vary drastically from day to day. One evening I’d go to bed at nine p.m. and the next night I might stay up until one a.m. or later.
But then I faced the torturous sleep deprivation of new parenthood, and there were weeks when I ran on a couple hours of sleep at a time. I stumbled through those newborn months in a perpetual fog.
When my daughter was old enough to sleep train, we established a routine, albeit one that still included midnight feedings. But after three nights of this new routine, I surprisingly started to wake up with more immediate energy. Even when I ran on less sleep overall, I started to make it through my days with less trouble than I sometimes experienced before having a baby.
It wasn’t until I read about social jet lag that I understood how this new routine helped solve my sleep issues.
What Is Social Jet Lag?
In the words of Parinaz Samimi, M.P.H., a sleep and wellness expert, “Social jet lag is what happens when you disrupt your natural sleep rhythms—most often by staying up later and sleeping longer on the weekends compared to your usual weekday schedule.”
It can feel like the jet lag brought on by traveling to a new time zone—complete with fatigue and moodiness—except social jet lag can happen just by sleeping in on Saturday morning. It’s called “social” jet lag because it’s usually the result of social obligations (that Friday night out leads to a Saturday morning sleeping in). But anything that throws off your natural sleep routine—a new baby, a late night Netflix marathon, an extra-cozy morning in bed—can cause social jet lag.
“The human body thrives off routine,” Samimi tells Shine. “You might think that one all-nighter or the occasional two-hour lie-in won’t hurt, but in reality, it can be more harmful than if you were to permanently shift your sleep schedule.”
Shift workers are also at particular risk of social jet lag, especially if their rotating work schedules constantly shake up their routine.
How Can I Tell If I Have Social Jet Lag?
The concept itself isn't new, but recent scholarship has found that social jet lag leads to worse health, increased fatigue, and moodiness.
Of course, there could be other contributing factors to these issues, but if you constantly feel sluggish, if your physical health is suffering, or if you find your mood worse than usual, you could have social jet lag.
To determine if social jet lag is part of the problem, Samimi recommends tracking your sleep patterns for a week. “Record when you go to bed and when you wake up, and any disruptions through the night,” she says. After a week, you should review your sleep log and ask a few questions:
●︎ Am I following a consistent schedule or do I change things up every night?
●︎ Do I follow a strict routine Monday through Thursday, only to throw it out the window on Friday?
If your sleep habits are erratic, chances are they play at least a small part in any health issues you’ve got going on.
How Can I Reset My Clock?
According to Samimi, the most important action you can take to combat social jet lag is to establish a regular bedtime and wake time—and stick to it. She suggests identifying the time you want or need to wake up every morning, then counting backward. Most people need a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, she says. Eight hours is the standard sleep sweet spot.
If this kind of sleep routine feels drastic from your current schedule, try moving your bedtimes and morning alarm incrementally each week to meet your goal.
Samimi points out that bedtime rituals can also help your body recognize sleep cues so that it’s better prepared to wind down at night. Bedtime rituals can include avoiding electronics for an hour before sleep, taking a hot shower, or turning on a fan that helps you sleep.
Finally, adopt healthy habits in other areas of your life. If you’re not getting the right kind of nutrition or exercise during the day, you will experience less restful sleep at night.
If all of this sounds impossible, try not to feel discouraged—it takes time. Try to tackle your new sleep habits one night at a time.
Most importantly, Samimi says, “it’s okay if you’re in a phase of life that keeps you from the perfect sleep schedule. Do what you can to achieve the ideal, but don’t push yourself to meet a goal that’s just not possible for right now.”