Jet lag is the discomfort that occurs when we travel long distances and encounter different time zones. It takes time for our physiological variables to adjust to the new time. This can lead to symptoms like fatigue, stomach problems, trouble concentrating, and sleep, which will continue to follow the same pattern as before.
It is not well-known that there are also other types of jetlag, like social jetlag. What is it? Let's imagine ourselves in this situation.
When asked if they have ever stayed up until "1000" to watch a television program, most of us would answer yes. We would all be able to answer "yes" to the question, or any series on a television platform. There is an excuse for this: we have endless work days that do not allow us to balance our leisure and family lives. The only way to make sure we do everything we want is to put it off until the night, as there are not enough hours in the day.
We end up settling down to going to the gym at odd times or just spending some time talking or drinking with our friends at the end.
This "end of day" is always later. Yet, the alarm clock insists that the alarm clock ring in the morning at exactly the same time every day to force us into our study or work obligations.
As a result, our sleep debt and fatigue increase from Monday to Friday. Our nightly sleep is being taken away by the hours we work at night.
When the weekend arrives (fortunately! We take advantage of the weekend to sleep as much as our bodies require. We don't have any schedules so we get up later to catch up on the sleep we missed during the week. Social jetlag is when the center sleep time on work days differs from the center sleep time on days off by more than 2 hours.
If you do not keep the same schedule for the entire week, please raise your hand. It would be a good thing to do for the health of our circadian systems, but we'd see very few people raise their hands. This disorder affects at least half of all students. The proportion of students affected would increase to 70% if we only consider the difference of one hour between work days and weekends. It's as if 7/10 people change their time every weekend.
We are fooling ourselves if we believe that this alteration doesn't affect us. Poorer academic performance is often linked to irregular sleeping patterns. Social jet lag has been associated with an increase in the risk of metabolic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Is there a solution? It has a solution. The covid-19 pandemic and the rise in teleworking made it possible for us to confirm that customizing our work schedules would allow us more sleep during the week. Social jetlag was greatly reduced during confinement by getting up earlier on weekdays and going to bed later. People with a more evening-oriented chronotype are more likely to experience it, especially those who have more of it.
It is rare that we are able to choose our work hours or have other obligations that require us to use an alarm clock. Social jet lag is actually caused by the use of an alarm clock.
However, this could be a problem that affects men and women in different ways. It is true that not enough research has been done in this area. Furthermore, it is hard to distinguish it from the chronotype, as women are more morning-oriented.
We would all be more aware of how important it is to preserve our internal temporal order in order to keep good health.
Let's not forget the alarm clock.
This article was published in "The Conversation".