By Grace Alano

Grace Alano

When your body’s internal rhythm isn’t synced up with your schedule, your health can suffer. It’s a condition known as social jet lag. But is it real? And what are its potential side effects? We’re here to discuss.

Many know the feeling of disembarking from a plane after a long red-eye or suddenly being thrown into a different timezone. It feels weird. Discombobulating. Disorienting. While we usually recover within a few days, it’s widely accepted that those who deal with jet lag on a continued basis can end up suffering from negative health conditions. 

Far less known, however, is that the same thing is happening on a much larger scale with our daily schedules. It’s called social jet lag, and it has everything to do with the mismatch of our circadian rhythm – our bodies’ internal clock – and the fluctuating realities of how we operate during the day. It’s called social jet lag, and it may be negatively impacting our health in a big way. 

Social jet lag: an introduction. 

Social jet lag has nothing to do with flying – and everything to do with our circadian rhythms. Think of circadian rhythms like an internal clock that respond primarily to light and darkness in our environment. They’ve evolved alongside us for thousands and thousands of years. It’s why we’re programmed to be awake during the day when it’s light. And asleep at night when it’s dark. 

Social jet lag happens when we confuse our bodies – telling them they should be awake when they’re asleep and vice versa. That feeling when you have to drag yourself out of bed with an alarm? That’s your circadian rhythms telling you that you should be asleep. The same thing happens when we stay up late staring at our smart phones all aglow in light. Our bodies think it’s day time when it’s actually night time. 

The result? Poor sleep habits turn into sleep disorders and our bodies ultimately pay the price. We over caffeinate during the day to power through the feelings of sleepiness and that further complicates the problem. 

The negative impacts of social jet lag. 

Messing with your circadian rhythms and the lack of sleep that comes with it does more damage than just affecting mental performance and response time. 

According to a recent study published in the journal Sleep, adults suffering from social jet lag are 11 percent more likely to develop heart disease than their well-rested counterparts. On top of that, researchers linked the condition to increased moodiness, sleepiness, and fatigue. Each hour of lost sleep due to social jet lag decreases a person’s health, researchers say. One of these underlying health issues also includes obesity. That’s because signals from the brain which control appetite regulation are impacted by sleep restriction. Inadequate sleep impacts secretion of the signal hormones ghrelin, which increases appetite, and leptin, which indicates when the body is satiated. This can lead to increased food intake without the compensating energy expenditure.

Getting over the jet lag. 

Our modern lives make it hard to reverse the effects of social jet lag. It seems like, more than ever, we’re constantly pressed for time. We’re faced with more dings, and blips, and notifications than ever. And the opportunities to stay up later with technology and rise earlier and earlier are abundant. Fortunately, the cure for social jet lag isn’t complicated or expensive. 

If you’re feeling the strain, give these tips a try. 

1. Simply get more sleep. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that we get seven hours of sleep a night. When we start cutting into that sleep schedule can slowly start to erode health. 

2. Wind down. 

Increasingly, we spend the later hours of our evenings with our heads buried in our smartphones – right before rolling into bed. Instead, spend the last 60 minutes before your call it quits for the day with activities that don’t require artificial light. Read a book, draw a picture, meditate, or just talk to someone. 

3. Cut the caffeine. 

One easy way to get more sleep is to drink less caffeine – or cut it out of your life all together. The truth is, caffeine isn’t necessary. If you don’t want to cut caffeine completely out of your diet (and we wouldn’t blame you), try to limit your caffeine intake to the hours before noon. 

4. Limit your blue light exposure. 

Blue light comes from all the gadgets and screens we spend our time with. The problem with blue light emissions is their ability to essentially trick our brains into thinking it’s day time, when it’s actually the opposite. Limiting your blue light exposure during the night can help you sleep better and get your circadian rhythms back on track. 

While social jet lag might not be as jarring as the jet lag you get after crossing multiple time zones, the effects are largely the same. Instead of fighting your body’s natural systems, plan your life around them. The last several millennial is on your side here. This includes sleep. Your body wants it and needs it. And your health will pay you back.