You Might Be Suffering from Social Jet Lag And Don’t Even Know It

Circadian Rhythm“Why do I feel jag lagged?” you may ask philosophically. “Haven’t been on an airplane in eons.” Well, believe it or not, you don’t need air-travel for jet lag. Not since science discovered a phenomenon called social jet lag.

Despite its name, social jet lag has little to do with hanging out or firing off Facebook messages. The phenomenon occurs when there’s a misalignment between our biological clocks (ruled by circadian rhythms) and our sleep schedules. When this misalignment takes place, weird things happen – fatigue, disorientation, mild depression – all the wonders you experience with aerial jet lag. Only without the benefit of traveling to Tahiti.

Social jet lag symptoms stem from sleep deprivation. When circadian rhythms and sleep schedules are misaligned, sleep quality and duration diminish — sometimes dramatically. In effect, you’re creating a sleep deficit. Do you sleep ‘till noon on the weekends? Occasionally stay up late to catch a movie? Work a night shift? All of these are preconditions for sleep deficits and social jet lag.

Far-Reaching Phenomenon

Current estimates put the number people experiencing social jet lag at two-thirds of the U.S. population. That’s a huge national sleep deficit. What makes the extent of the problem more alarming is the negative impact it can have on our lives. Fatigue and disorientation, however, are only the beginning. Over time, social jet lag can have many adverse health consequences.

Recent findings published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed a correlation between social jet lag and the heightened risk of diabetes and heart disease. Night shift workers appear particularly vulnerable. According to research, this group has a greater chance of developing metabolic syndromes, coronary heart disease, and diabetes than do conventional daytime workers. The former also had worse cholesterol profiles, larger waist circumferences, and higher body mass indexes.

One of the researchers, Patricia M. Wong from the University of Pittsburg, pointed out that “other researchers have found that social jetlag relates to obesity and some indicators of cardiovascular function. However, this is the first study to extend upon that work and show that even among healthy, working adults who experience a less extreme range of mismatches in their sleep schedule, social jetlag can contribute to metabolic problems.”

Getting Your Circadian Rhythm Back in Sync

To reverse or prevent social jet lag, people with sleep-deficit have but one option — re-sync sleep schedules to circadian rhythms. This means your head hits the pillow at a decent hour, not 3 a.m. To help your cause, make sure you get sufficient exposure to sunlight – circadian rhythms respond to sunlight levels over a twenty-four hour period. When these levels are correct, circadian rhythms function properly and facilitate a natural wake-sleep cycle.

Getting outdoors and keeping windows open will help maintain proper light levels. Equally important, minimize daytime light during the evening hours. These means, unglue yourself from the TV, computer, or smartphone screen at least one hour before bedtime. These devices generally emit daytime light, which wreaks havoc with circadian rhythms after nightfall.

Modern LED light bulbs can help maintain the proper indoor light balance necessary to promote biologically-correct sleep patterns. By producing daytime and nighttime illumination in the right quantities, these natural light bulbs sync perfectly with the circadian timetable. Social jet lag becomes a thing of the past.

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