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Tired at Work? You Might Have Social Jet Lag

Social Jet Lag
Social jet lag. Credit: Matt Walker @sleepdiplomat / Twitter

Being tired at work is not uncommon. Neither is jet lag after a long, intercontinental flight. Social jet lag, a new phrase going viral in the United States, is the worst of both.

There have been a number of new concepts in the U.S. that became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, and still remain so today. Months of lockdown generated these. Others relate to peoples’ behavior at the height of COVID-19 infections.

‘Covidiot,’ a term reserved for individuals who broke the rules by not following the advice of public health experts, is amongst these concepts. Other pandemic-related phrases include ‘Covideo party,’ which refers to an online get together using Skype or Zoom, while ‘Covexit’ is the successful dodging of lockdown. Obviously, in some way, these all describe the frustration people felt.

‘Zoom bombing’ is when one appears uninvited to a Zoom call and is an expression related to work. Likewise, the phrases ‘quaranteams’ also refers to working from home. Quaranteams are groups meeting online from home due to quarantine whereas ‘WFH’ stands for working from home.

The world is now in a generally post-pandemic period, so how did the most recent phrase ‘social jet lag’ come about and to what does it refer?

A modern-day phenomena

To put it simply, social jet lag is sleep deprivation. Frontiers in Neuroscience stated, for example:

The difference in sleep timing between work and free days is a consequence of the discrepancy between the individual’s circadian rhythm and the social clock. SJL is considered a chronic stress factor…

The circadian rhythm is an inner, self-driven clock following a 24-hour period. It is what helps you sleep at night, according to America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, it resets itself daily according to the sun’s light.

The circadian clock, as the CDC explained, is “an internally driven 24-hour rhythm that tends to run longer than 24 hours but resets every day by the sun’s light/dark cycle.”

The National Library of Medicine, another U.S. health organization, describes social jet lag in the following terms:

…social jetlag is used to describe the discrepancy between biological time, determined by our internal body clock, and social times, mainly dictated by social obligations such as school or work. In industrialized countries, two-thirds of the studying/working population experiences social jetlag, often for several years.

Described for the first time in 2006, a considerable effort has been put into understanding the effects of social jetlag on human physiopathology, yet our understanding of this phenomenon is still very limited. Due to its high prevalence, social jetlag is becoming a primary concern for public health.

This review summarizes current knowledge regarding social jetlag, social jetlag associated behavior (e.g., unhealthy eating patterns) and related risks for human health.

The effects of sleep deprivation
Lack of sleep can be a trigger for seizures in patients with epilepsy. It can even increase the intensity and length of seizures. Some forms of epilepsy are especially prone to sleep problems. Credit: American Academy of Sleep Medicine / Facebook

The Wall Street Journal stated researchers calculate SJL by the dissimilarity between our sleep midpoint on days we work versus the days we do not. What that means is that social activities, work, school, and social media wreak havoc on our natural circadian clock.

The impact of COVID

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a preliminary study in 2017 showed that social jet lag is a key indicator of future problematic issues with health.

It is not a new diagnosis, however. In fact, it is one that has been around for a while. The phrase has exploded in use today due to people’s personal experience with it. In turn, renewed the interest of scientists and psychiatrists.

It is said that COVID-19 also might have worsened the condition, as viral infections seem to interfere with our sleep patterns.

Social Jet Lag taking US by storm

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on SJL in which the impacts of both COVID-19 and Daylight Savings Time are outlined.

The JAMA Network Open journal published a study showing that 47% of American adults suffer from SJL of around 60 minutes. For one-fifth of the subjects, it was around 120 minutes.

Psychologist Aric Patel, who works at the University of California, told the paper:

Jet lag can have a much more dramatic effect on people acutely. You feel jet lag when you travel. Social jet lag is more insidious. It’s often hiding in plain sight, though it may have an impact on our health. 

They also quoted Susheel Patil, Ohio University’s Director of Sleep Medicine, who said:

One hour of social jet lag is like traveling one time zone, without even travelling (or going through Daylight Savings Time). They may have difficulties falling asleep, staying awake, waking up appropriately or waking up earlier than they may expect. 

Researchers still need to conduct more studies to concretely pinpoint its effect on our health. Until then, what experts like Dr. Patel provide is very simple yet fruitful solutions. The first thing is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Secondly, create a calming and restorative pre-bed routine and sleep environment. Thirdly, practicing stress management everyday also helps.

As Dr. Patel explained to the newspaper:

In sleep medicine, we think about what you can do to [optimize] both sleep health and circadian help…Even if you might be getting adequate amounts of sleep, a misalignment of the circadian system will eventually impact your sleep as well. You don’t feel as good as when both systems are operating well.



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