‘Social Jetlag’ May Cause Weight Gain

By Amir Khan on May 11, 2012 5:46 PM EDT

Alone
Living by yourself or simply feeling lonely sometimes could raise your risk of premature death, according to two new studies (Photo: Reuters)

Sleeping in on the weekend after a long workweek sounds great, but doing so may be detrimental to your health, according to a new study.

Researchers found the common practice of following one sleep schedule during the week and another on weekends, a practice they called "social jetlag," raises your risk of weight gain and a host of other health problems.

The body's internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, is primarily regulated by daylight to provide the best window for sleep, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. Waking early on weekdays but sleeping late on weekends doesn't allow our body's clock to stay set, which can lead to health issues.

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"The schedules we keep on the weekend are much different than those we keep during the week," David J. Earnest, a body-clock expert at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine who holds a doctorate in neurobiology and was not involved in the study, told CNN. "This potentially has ramifications for disrupting circadian rhythms and translating into the same sorts of things associated with shift work, such as an increased risk for cancer and diabetes and so on."

The researchers coined the term "social jetlag" because the body in such circumstances acts similar to the way it does after a long flight.

"The behavior looks like if most people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo and on Monday they fly back," Till Roenneberg, study co-author and researcher at the University of Munich, told WebMD. "Since this looks like almost a travel jet-lag situation, we called it 'social jetlag.'"

Social jetlag leads to sleep deprivation, which forces people to try to wake up using caffeine and other drugs, researchers said.

"It concerns an increasing discrepancy between the daily timing of the physiological clock and the social clock, Roenneberg said in a statement. "As a result of this social jetlag, people are chronically sleep-deprived. They are also more likely to smoke and drink more alcohol and caffeine. Now, we show that social jetlag also contributes to obesity."

Sleep deprivation causes poor eating habits and a poor metabolism, the researchers said. As a result, sleep deprivation can lead to the pounds piling up.

Social jetlag begins in the teenage years and continues until retirement, according to the study. Teenagers naturally wake later than their adult counterparts, but schools do not take that into consideration. Bad sleeping habits become ingrained as they get older, forcing them to rely on alarm clocks, which disrupts their internal clock even more.

"Waking up with an alarm clock is a relatively new facet of our lives," Roenneberg said. "It simply means that we haven't slept enough, and this is the reason why we are chronically tired. Good sleep and enough sleep is not a waste of time but a guarantee for better work performance and more fun with friends and family during off-work times."

The best way to combat social jetlag is to wake up at similar times on weekdays and weekends. That -- coupled with spending more time in the sun, which helps regulate the body's internal clock -- can effectively combat social jetlag, the researchers said.  

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