Episode 23


Social Jet Lag

The phenomena known as “social jet lag” carries with it some pretty serious consequences to your health. In this episode, I discuss some of the impact of having a later schedule on the weekend than the work or school week.

If you jumped on a plane every Friday night and headed west, only to jump back on a plane Sunday night heading back east, you'd suffer some pretty significant jet lag. Heading westward, the clock time of your new environment is delayed relative to your body's internal clock, pressuring you to stay awake later and wake up later. By heading eastward, the clock time of your new environment is advanced relative to your body's internal clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep and harder to wake up. 

Social jet lag is what happens when you keep one schedule during the work/school week (Monday through Friday for most), then a different and significantly delayed schedule on the weekend (or days off). The greater the difference in these two schedules, the more difficult Mondays become. And not only that, there are dramatic health consequences.

I stress the importance of consistent wake timing as an anchor for your body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. Consistent circadian rhythms don't just help with falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up feeling rested, but can dramatically affect physical, cognitive, and emotional health as well. 

Differences in sleep/wake timing between work days and non-work days increases the risk of ADHD. And the greater the social jet lag, the worse the ADHD symptoms, especially impulsivity. Social jet significantly affects school performance and grades - and the greater the difference in sleep schedule on school days vs weekend (regardless of duration of sleep), the worse the grades. These issues can be seen as early as pre-school. 

Social jet significantly increases depression and anxiety. The greater the difference in sleep timing between work days and days off, the worse the mood. 

Metabolic health, including weight, BMI, body fat percentage, cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance - all worse the greater the degree of social jet lag. This has been demonstrated not just in older adults, but even in children as young as the 3rd grade. 

As discussed in Episode 22, a later bedtime and later wake time is bad for your overall wellness, not just your sleep. But trying to limit that later schedule only to days off or weekends is even more problematic than when maintained 7 days a week. Your biology - especially your body's internal clock - does not like to be jerked around from one day to the next. There are serious consequences far beyond your sleep to having not just misaligned, but inconsistent schedules. 

So be consistent, but also be consistent and not delayed. Respect your circadian rhythm and it will respect you! Ignore it at your folly; your health and wellbeing are on the line.


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