Social jetlag: What is it?

Does sleeping in on weekends really help you catch up on sleep?

Stress and sleep

Sonia Chartier

21 June 2018

It’s that time of year when your social calendar is likely full of late nights and other celebrations, but at least you’ve got Sunday morning to catch up on all that lost sleep, right? Well, maybe not.

According to recent research, sleeping in on weekends is bad news, not only for your sleep patterns, but also your cardiovascular health and weight.

Is sleeping in really good for you?

It’s something we’re all guilty of, especially after a late night. “It’s Saturday,” you probably think, “so I can just catch up on my sleep tomorrow by sleeping in.” Some of you probably even rely on the weekends as your only opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. But is doing so really good for you? Can a late night really be remedied by an even later morning?

According to the research, the answer is a resounding no. Sleeping in on the weekend won’t help you catch up on any lost sleep and can cause what is known as social jet lag.

What is social jet lag?

Social jet lag is a term coined by sleep scientist Dr. Till Roenneberg and refers to the idea of a misalignment between biological and social time. It’s estimated that two in three of us will suffer from social jet lag.

Humans as a species have preferred times for sleep and activity, and they can vary from person to person—some of us are instinctive night owls, whereas others are early birds.

This preference is largely dictated by your circadian clock but sometimes your preferred biological sleep time can be interrupted by your social schedule, whether it’s due to working or staying up late. If you don’t generally fall asleep until midnight and then get woken up by your alarm at 6 a.m., you’ll end up losing sleep during the week and experiencing the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

However, compensating for this loss by sleeping longer, more erratic hours on the weekend simply worsens the issue, leading to wider consequences for your health and wellbeing.

How is social jet lag affecting your health?

Let’s start with the most recent research on social jet lag. In a study conducted by researchers from the Health and Sleep Programme at the University of Arizona, 948 adults were surveyed and a link was found between cardiovascular disease and those who experienced social jet lag.

Apparently, each hour of social jet lag resulted in an 11.1% increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. The reason for this drastic increase wasn’t that apparent, but this worrying piece of research is just the latest confirming links between a long list of health issues and social jet lag.

Another study also identified a connection between sleep misalignment, cholesterol and insulin. In this study, 447 volunteers who worked day shifts had their sleep monitored by researchers. Of these participants, 85% experienced a later mid-sleep—the halfway point in their sleep pattern—on free days compared to work days, with many sleeping in on their free days and experiencing fewer hours of sleep on work days.

Subjects with particularly significant misalignments were found to have poor cholesterol profiles, higher insulin levels and a greater BMI than others. Although further studies are needed, the relationship between social jet lag and increased risk for diabetes does look likely, particularly given the pre-existing risks of sleep deprivation, which can also affect mood and memory.

What can you do to prevent social jet lag?

At this time of year, social jetlag may be particularly relevant. In the upcoming weeks, many of us will be focusing on getting ready for the summer vacation.

Not to mention that access to alcohol, processed foods, really salty foods and caffeine can sometimes make us more vulnerable to social jet lag and more tempted to stay up late and sleep in the following day.

So what can you do to prevent social jet lag?

1 – Curb your caffeine intake

It’s no secret that caffeine isn’t great for your sleep patterns but, at this time of year, you’re likely to be confronted with a lot more of it. Common caffeine sources include lattes, iced cappuccinos and, the most notorious of them all, cola.

Not only are all these beverages loaded with sugar (a scary amount of sugar sometimes!), they’ll definitely interrupt your sleep and keep you up at night.

It’s estimated that caffeine can linger in your system for around four to six hours, so that afternoon latte or glass of cola can definitely come back to haunt you at night. That’s not to say you have to miss out entirely, but limiting your intake may help. Some recommend keeping your caffeine intake to around 300 mg a day.

To put this into perspective, a 250 ml cup of filter coffee can have anywhere from 95-165 mg of caffeine in it. If you want a caffeine-free alternative, you could try our natural coffee substitute Bambu, which is rich in potassium and contains a potent blend of Turkish figs, barley, wheat and chicory.

2 – Have a light dinner

BBQ, ice cream, summer cocktails—this is the time of year when we let go and really enjoy our food. However, this can have some less-than-desirable effects on your digestive system and you might find it difficult to sleep as your body is wide awake trying to digest all the food you’ve eaten.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t enjoy any treats, but it might be a good idea to make dinner a much ligher meal than you’re accustomed to. Try to avoid eating anything too rich in the hours leading up to bedtime and definitely resist the urge to indulge in sugary treats, as they may cause your blood glucose levels to fluctuate, triggering a spike in your insulin levels.

3 – Try to stick to a routine

Staying up late and sleeping in can lead to social jetlag, so try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week. Getting this routine right can be tricky since, by nature, some of us are more predisposed to staying up late or rising early.

The best advice is not to deviate too far from the norm during your free days and make sure you’re getting enough sleep on work nights. This may mean going to bed earlier during the week or making some adjustments to your usual schedule.

If you’re having a hard time sleeping, you could try our natural sleep remedy Deep Sleep. A gentle blend of valerian and hops, Deep Sleep can help you maintain a normal sleep pattern and doesn’t have any of the side-effects caused by conventional sleep medicines, such as drowsiness and poor concentration.

4 – Practice good sleep hygiene

You’re unlikely to get a good night’s sleep if your sleep hygiene routine is all over the place. Lying in bed and watching videos on your phone or working right up until the last minute isn’t conducive to slowing down and relaxing.

As we’ve mentioned in some of the previous blogs, the blue light that devices such as mobile phones, tablets and televisions emit can hinder your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Try turning off your devices at least an hour before bedtime and instead focus on more restful activities, like taking a long, hot bath or reading an old-fashioned book.

Make sure your bedroom isn’t too hot or too cold and remember to turn the lights off before your head hits the pillow. You can even try ditching your alarm clock and replacing it with a sunrise alarm clock, which, rather than immediately jerking you out of your sleep cycle, gently wakes you up with a gradual light that can sometimes even help sufferers of SAD.
For more information about good sleep hygiene, have a look at our sleep guide.

5 – Get outside

Getting some fresh air outdoors has a whole host of benefits, but the one we’re going to focus on here is vitamin D. Not getting enough vitamin D can cause problems such as poor sleep and insomnia, so it’s important to make sure you don’t miss out.


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