Social Jetlag? What is it and how can we reduce it to get better sleep?
Many people have difficulty sleeping. Everything from waking up in the middle of the night to a hard time getting to sleep at all.
What if staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends could be the root of it all?
Social Jetlag is the concept that when we live a different schedule on the weekends we may be messing with our body’s circadian rhythms. I explain a bit more in this video here but, basically, it goes like this: If we keep a consistent schedule during the week, say, getting up at 7am and going to bed at 11pm, we are training our bodies to get tired around 11pm. All the processes that the body goes through while we sleep – very important processes – are anchored on that timeline. Now, many of us choose to stay up late on weekends because we don’t have to get up early to go to work. So let’s say we decide to stay up an extra 2 hours to watch a movie on both Friday and Saturday and sleep in an extra 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday. The effect on the body of this virtual change in time zone is no different than we experience when we actually travel two time zones.
Anyone who has experienced jet lag through travel knows it takes time for the body to catch back up to the time zone we are in once we get there. Changing our sleep schedule every weekend, even by a couple of hours, has the same effect. It’s like we are flying a thousand miles on Friday night and back again on Sunday afternoon. By the time Sunday night arrives our bodies are reset to get tired at 1am because of the schedule we’ve chosen the previous two nights. This could be why we have a hard time falling asleep, or why we do fall asleep but then wake up again through the night.
Other than not doing this anymore (staying up late on weekends) what else might we be able to do to try to improve our sleep despite this social jetlag? In fact, the timing of our meals also helps determine the time we get sleepy at night, so if we can stick to our normal eating schedule on the weekend, this will help. A sleep-in, followed by a big brunch at a time of morning we would never eat a big meal during the week can really mess up how we feel. Ever have a late morning big Sunday brunch and still not feel hungry by dinner? You might end up hungry at 7 or 8pm and end up eating something at that time instead of dinner time. This is evidence that circadian rhythms are out of whack, and it can mess with sleep even further.
Instead, if you sleep in, try waiting until your normal lunchtime to eat a fair-sized meal. This may help you be hungry at dinnertime again, and that may go part way toward putting you back on your weekly sleep and wake cycle.
See how this works for you. It’s a simple way to make a slight adjustment in lifestyle that can have big effects on how you feel.