Never heard of social jet lag? Well, chances are you have it. Not only do you have it, it’s taking a substantial negative toll on your health.
About 85 percent of people go to sleep and wake up later on the weekends than they do during the work week, thus triggering worse moods and chronic fatigue. A new study reveals that these effects, dubbed “social jet lag,” even extend to long-term health issues like increased risk of heart disease, with each hour of jet lag resulting in an 11 percent increase in risk.
“These results indicate that sleep regularity, beyond sleep duration alone, plays a significant role in our health,” lead author Sierra B. Forbush, an undergraduate research assistant in the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told EurekAlert. “This suggests that a regular sleep schedule may be an effective, relatively simple, and inexpensive preventative treatment for heart disease as well as many other health problems.”
This isn’t the first study to reveal the negative impact of social jet lag. A 2012 study also linked it to obesity, with a 33 percent increase in risk per hour of social jet lag. The study also found that people with social jet lag are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, consume more caffeine and be depressed than the rest of the population.
“The behavior looks like if most people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo and on Monday they fly back,” researcher Till Roenneberg PhD, a professor at the Institute of Medical Psychology at the University of Munich who coined the term, told WebMD. “Since this looks like almost a travel jet lag situation, we called it social jet lag. They have to live a life almost in a different time zone in comparison to their biological clock.”
Not sure how much social jet lag you have? Both studies measure it by subtracting weekday from weekend midpoint. Roenneberg’s research finds that most of the population would naturally like to sleep between 1 AM and 9 AM. These are the people most likely to experience social jet lag during the week, when they have to get up early for work. Based on the formula, a person who goes to bed at 1 AM and wakes up at 6 AM during the workweek would have 1.5 hours of social jet lag.
And unfortunately, if this is something you’re guilty of, countering the effects isn’t so simple. Trying to keep your work schedule on the weekends will result in sleep debt, which can have “enormous” consequences, as Roenneberg pointed out. Instead, he proposes that society’s attitude towards sleep needs to change completely, aligning work schedules with the biological clock.
If you’re not making your own hours, Roenneberg suggests using daylight to your advantage. Early risers who need to fall asleep earlier in order to get more sleep should try to get more sunlight in the morning and avoid it in the evening, and vice versa.
Just be sure to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, based on recommendations from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and keep those hours as regular as possible.
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