What is 'social jetlag' and why is it a problem?


New study reveals 'social jetlag' is a serious problem in Australia

Ever had that bone-crushing feeling of exhaustion after a busy week of work and social engagements? It’s a bit like getting off a plane after a 28-hour, cattle-class trip overseas.

Social jetlag is commonly caused by the clash of life’s demands with your natural body-clock. You’re at your best late at night, but you regularly need to be at work for an 8am meeting. Or you love nothing more than snuggling up in bed in your pyjamas by 9pm, but your partner wants to go out partying during the week.

What is social jetlag?

A new study just published in the Sleep Journal describes the prevalence and effects of social jetlag - defined as ‘misalignment between biological and social time’. In other words, people are not getting enough quality sleep because of their lifestyle.

The report was based on a 2016 online survey of 837 people conducted by the Sleep Health Foundation. The focus was on the majority of workers, so shift-workers were excluded.

And here are the survey results:

  • Around one third of people typically experience a feeling of extreme exhaustion for more than one hour a day.
  • Social jetlag usually led to people sleeping much longer on their days off.
  • Tiredness was often a result of people staying up later than normal, usually on their computers or other devices.
  • Around twice as many working respondents with social jetlag reported going to work when they should have taken sick leave due to their state of health.

Why is social jetlag a problem?

Social jetlag is fast becoming a serious problem for many Australians. So what’s the issue?

  1. People make more mistakes.

As a result of their exhaustion, people are more prone to making errors in their work and their judgement may be adversely affected. They’re also more likely to run late for work and miss meetings and deadlines, leading to a negative work assessment by their boss.

  1. It can be downright dangerous.

For people who drive cars or trucks for a living or operate machinery, constant tiredness can lead to workplace accidents.

  1. Poor sleep can lead to poor health.

Fatigue has a significant effect on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. 

“People with social jetlag are either less able to recognise their sickness signs or they feel a degree of pressure to work despite being unwell or just plain tired,” explains Professor Robert Adams, who headed up the research team at the University of Adelaide.

Going to work when you’re coming down with something can lead to the spread of contagious disease – and that’s not going to make you popular with your work colleagues or your boss.

What can you do to avoid social jetlag?

We all love a weekend sleep-in, but the experts suggest that it’s better to get your body back in synch by going to bed a little earlier and getting up a little later.

You should also avoid looking at your laptop, tablet or smartphone at least an hour before bedtime. Read more about how technology affects your sleep.