Do you suffer from ‘social jet lag’?

By Shayna Brouker • Published: August 28th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s a familiar tune: You wake up early for work all week until the weekend arrives, and then it’s time for fun, friends and sleeping in. But scientists say your social schedule could be skewing your sleep — and could contribute to obesity. The hour or two sleep difference from Saturday to Sunday has the same effect of traveling to another time zone — and could increase your risk of obesity by more than 30 percent.

The University of Munich study was published in the journal Current Biology and involved more than 65,000 people. The researcher who coined the term social jet lag estimates that it affects about two-thirds of the population. This disjointed sleep schedule isn’t as extreme as those of shift workers, but there are some startling scientific similarities. Past studies have found that shift workers burn fewer calories at rest — a pattern that could lead to 10 to 12 pounds gained in a year.

So while extreme drowsiness may seem like the worst symptom, skimping on sleep can have serious health consequences. Doctors think the issue deserves more respect, but the solution to getting more snooze time isn’t so simple.

Most people get up early because they have to, not because they want to — so setting the alarm for an early-morning wakeup on the weekends will likely just increase sleep debt. Sleep specialists suggest that those trying to get to bed early should look to the sky and get more sunlight in the early morning. Wannabe night owls should soak up rays in the afternoon and early evening. If you can set your own schedule, try and keep the same hours during the week and weekend.

But if you can’t, here are some tips to sleep more soundly. Ban light in the bedroom and set a routine that lets your body know it’s time to wind down. Limit caffeine and alcohol in the p.m. Make sleep a priority in your life and reap the benefits of better health.