Syncing with Society’s Clock:
Social Jetlag in Athletes

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A well rested body is a healthier, more efficient, more capable one. This could be the hardest thing to accomplish on my to-do-list, but it always makes a difference
– Kerri Walsh Jennings

Importance of sleep consistency

What is Social Jet Lag?

There are numerous sleep problems facing many athletes, and all can have a negative effect on athletic performance. One of the most common, especially among younger athletes is social jetlag.

Social jetlag is the name given to the condition in which sleep patterns vary widely between workdays and weekends or holidays, with sleep deprivation on weekdays being compensated for by a lie-in on weekends. This may severely confuse and disrupt the natural circadian rhythms of the body
– Dr. Liji Thomas, MD

The term ‘Social Jet Lag’ was coined by Till Roennenberg, Professor of Chronobiology at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. It occurs when we go to bed later and wake up later at the weekend compared to weekdays. How much social jetlag you experience is down to the how far apart these two sleep/wake cycles are. It has been compared to travelling to a different time zone at the start of the week and only coming back to local time at the weekend.

Social Jetlag is a common issue

It is a common problem, especially in teenagers and young adults who tend to go to bed late and get up late when they don’t have something scheduled. Getting up early on a Monday morning for school or college can leave them tired and fatigued similar to feeling ‘jet-lagged’. This confuses our body clock and can lead to fatigue, difficulties concentrating, and other issues. Basically, your sleep routines are out of sync. The issue tends to be more pronounced in ‘night owls’ – someone who usually stays up late and may feel most awake in the evening. Sleep-time differences of more than one hour between training days and days off in elite athletes is considered a sign of social jet lag. It can be a significant impairment to an athlete’s ability to train and perform at their best.

Negative impact of a disrupted sleep/wake cycle

Only in recent years have researchers discovered the extent to which a disrupted sleep/wake cycle can have a negative impact on athletic prowess. Sleep deprivation has been proved to lower reaction time, accuracy, vigour, judgement and mood, all of which are important factors in the physical and mental conditioning of athletes and sports people. Most people who follow a 9-5 work cycle have social jetlag. They like to sleep in over the weekend to ‘catch up’. The condition has little effect on their ability to function normally. Athletes and sports people, however, are different. They need to push themselves to reach peak levels of physical and mental fitness. This means monitoring the all-important sleep/wake cycle and taking action to restore it when it becomes too disrupted.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Eat, sleep and swim, that’s all I can do
– Michael Phelps

It is important that an athlete takes action to improve their chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Human beings are not robots: nobody can be programmed to get a fixed amount of sleep every night. There are many factors that can influence both the quantity and the quality of your sleep, not least, stress and worry. However, there are some actions an athlete can take to improve their chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Avoiding stimulants such as coffee after a certain hour can help
  • Avoiding napping in the evening can also be effective
  • Keeping your room in darkness can help to prepare for sleep as the body’s ‘master’ clock is influenced by visual cues, such as light
  • Going to bed earlier is the most simple and obvious action but also probably the most effective

Improve Sleep – Improve Performance

Due to the nature of sport and athletic competition, most athletes and sportspeople are young, and going to bed early is not a priority for most young people. Collegiate athletes in particular like to play off the field as much as on. Time for play can be made in an athlete’s schedule, but it should be agreed with the athlete’s coach. The good news is that you can help improve the sleep habits of your athletes by educating them on the importance of adhering to regular routines and adopting some simple lifestyle changes. Improving your team’s athletic performance may be as simple as getting them a bit more shut-eye.

Practice does not make perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection
– Matthew Walker

How Metrifit can help you educate and inform

Sleep allows your body to rest and recover and continually renew itself each day in a far more effective way than anything else. Simply put – if you are not well rested, you cannot consistently perform at your best. In today’s constantly ‘switched on’ world it is becoming increasingly harder for athletes to do the one thing that might just make the biggest difference to their performance. Metrifit’s athlete monitoring application promotes authentic conversations and helps educate your athletes about the importance of good sleep hygiene. Our lifestyle profiling survey can help you assess the overall lifestyle stressors and habits of your team and pinpoint where your focus should be to help improve lifestyle habits and thereby athletic performance. It provides invaluable insight into the well-being of your team with clear visuals that help you make informed decisions to prepare your athletes for optimal performance.
In this short video, we explain how Metrifit works for both the athlete and the coach.

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