Social Jet Lag

Happy holidays from Somnology! The season of joy is upon us, bringing with it lots of holiday plans and time with friends and family. Whether family time serves as stress relief from work or work serves as stress relief from family time, you’re not alone if you feel stressed this month. The holiday season can become the most chaotic part of the year! As we all know, stress can be a detriment to sleep quality. But did you know that holiday schedule shifts and late nights can hurt your sleep quality, too?

When you’re trying to survive on 4 hours of sleep or get through a 12-hour work day, the historic times of waking up when the rooster crows and going to sleep when the sun sets sounds quite appealing. Most of us wake up to an alarm and plan our day-to-day around social expectations and requirements, which are designed to make the most of each day. Although we try to control it as much as possible, our lives operate on the terms of not one, but three different clocks:

  • Solar, where our clocks and calendars are set according to the relative position of the earth and the sun
  • Biological, or circadian rhythm, dictates when an individual is ready for sleep
  • Social, where schedules are developed around work, school, and leisure

What is social jet lag? We all know about jet lag and how changing time zones and sleep schedules can negatively impact us. But social jet lag occurs when there is a misalignment between biological and social clocks. For example, this could happen when you keep one schedule during the work week, and a different schedule on the weekend. People frequently go to bed and wake up at the same time during the week, but will go to bed later and wake up later on the weekend. These inconsistencies are what cause the health risks associated with social jet lag. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine outlined the health consequences of social jet lag, which can include weight gain, worse mood, increased sleepiness and fatigue, and overall poorer health. Cardiovascular health is something that is especially affected as each hour of social jet lag is associated with an 11% increase in the likelihood of heart disease. In fact, this is true even when sleep duration and insomnia events are not taken into account.

Staying out late and waking up later on weekends due to social events like date nights, concerts, and hanging out with friends are not the only things causing social jet lag anymore. Increased social media use has been found to play a big role in discrepancies between your biological and social clocks. Unfortunately, online communication and social media has been found to be the most used at night, and the later the technology use, the fewer subsequent hours of sleep are attained. In a Cornell study, they found that people with increased levels of digital media usage had significantly more sleep disruptions, increased reports of tiredness, and an overall pattern of being chronically sleep deprived.

This is especially relevant when looking at adolescents. Teens have been found to have a higher emotional investment in social media which correlates to increased time spent online. Because teens are more likely to spend time online, especially at night, they frequently get less sleep or interrupted sleep due to incoming messages or other notifications. Teens who are sleep deprived are then more likely to experience weight gain or emotional difficulties like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem on top of the health concerns already associated with social jet lag.

However, regardless of age or your level of social media use, social jet lag is something that a lot of people face during the holidays. Some people take more time off to be with their families or go on vacations; others may be taking up another job or working extra shifts. Both of these instances disrupt your biological clock and may be the cause of fatigue, hunger, poor mood, or other health concerns.

Although the holiday time may be a difficult time to avoid social jet lag, here are a few tips to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule:

  • Keep a consistent routine: Do your best to wake up and go to bed at the same times as you normally would. Your body’s internal clock loves consistency and waking up at the same time, even if you go to bed late, will help keep it on schedule.
  • Avoid taking naps: Even though you may feel sleepy after eating that big holiday meal, try to avoid long naps as they can disrupt your usual sleep cycles.
  • Get offline: The blue light emitted from your phone can affect your circadian rhythm and prevent your body from going into “sleep mode,” creating social jet lag. Simultaneously, notifications and text messages can interrupt your sleep patterns. The “do not disturb” function on your phone is your best friend in situations like these!
  • Eat early: Although a significant aspect of the holiday season is eating big family dinners, try to avoid eating these heavy meals late at night. Instead, go for a lighter meal or one that is earlier in the evening.

Holidays can cause or worsen existing social jet lag because of the sudden changes in our social schedules. While social jet lag can cause a multitude of health issues such as tiredness, mood problems, overeating, anxiety, and cardiovascular stress, it is avoidable. Even simply sticking to a sleep schedule or taking a book to bed instead of your phone can make a difference. Taking care of your sleep needs could be the key to a fantastic holiday. The team at Somnology wishes you a well-rested holiday!

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