Social Jetlag – New Sleep Malady

Recently, I read an article in sleepbetter.org regarding a new sleep issue we are fighting – “social jetlag.”

This new term was coined from a study conducted by Professor Roenneberg and his team at the University of Germany.  What is social jetlag?  It is a syndrome caused by the discrepancy between our internal body clock and our social clock.  It is the gap between how much sleep we need and how much we’re actually getting. 

We each have our own internal clock or known as circadian rhythm.  It is regulated by daylight which wakes us up and darkness that prompts us to go to sleep.  However, this internal clock is being compromised by our social clock – our work schedules and social calendars – which is having us work later hours, and spend too much time in front of a computer screen, including this author.

By listening to our social clock over our internal clock, it is causing a sleep gap, known as social jetlag.  It causes our circadian rhythm to reset later and later, keeping us awake at night and feeling tired during the day.

This study which is in the May 10 issue of Current Biology showed that people with different weekday and weekend sleep schedules (i.e., those with more social jetlag) were three times more likely to be overweight.   Furthermore, the body mass index (BMI) tended to increase in overweight participants as the gap between the weekday and weekend sleep schedules widened.

So why the weight gain?  One theory is that our social clock encourages late-night eating – the time our body is less likely to digest and metabolize food.  Also, when we are chronically tired, we are less likely to exercise thus contributing to weight gain.

It is in our best interest to become more aware of our internal clocks and get more restful sleep.  Sleep is not a waste of time, but can improve our work performance and give us more fun with friends and family during off-work times.

So now you know about social jetlag, and the discrepancy between weekday and weekend what are you going to do about it?

Read Professor Roenneberg and his team’s full report, entitled “Social Jetlag and Obesity,”  published in the May 10 issue of “Current Biology.”

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