Technology blamed for users feeling social jet-lagged by their tech-run social calendar

Dave Masko's picture

COOS BAY, Ore. – College student Nolan thinks his busy social calendar here at school – that he keeps tabs on using his smartphone – is messing with his sleep patterns and even making him fat.

While it seems like a stretch to blame technology on that “jet-lagged” feeling - that Coos Bay college student Nolan says he’s feeling due to a busy Facebook page, and other activities that involve this 19-year-old’s social calendar- a researcher told National Public Radio (NPR) May 15 that it’s now common to have busy tech-gadget users feeling like they just took a transcontinental flight being “out of sync” with their body clock. According to German researcher Till Roenneberg, the disconnect between our social calendars and our biological clocks is creating a kind of jet lag — he's dubbed it "social jet lag." And the consequence? Expanding waistlines. "The larger the discrepancy between social time and what your biological clock tells you to do, the more likely it is you are [overweight or obese]," Roenneberg told NPR during a special May 15 report on how technology is re-wiring users brains.

At the same time, Nolan joined girlfriend Tara for a much needed “no-tech” and social networking break by participating in a recent area beach clean-up. Both students said it did a body good to get outside and pay it forward for the community over just focusing on “who to hook-up with” via the onslaught of Tweets and texts that are sent to these students on a 24/7 basis that’s keeping them both from getting much needed sleep and community activities.

Who is in the category of the socially jet-lagged?

German researcher Till Roenneberg told NPR during a May 15 interview that many young people worldwide today are in this category of being “socially jet-lagged” due, in part, to their “constant use of technology.”

For instance, Coos Bay college student Nolan explains how his smartphone has become a “sort of day planner.” Nolan told Huliq during a May 15 interview, for example, that his smartphone is even programmed to “chime when I need to call my friends. I was missing out on a lot of group study happenings, and even some parties after school. My friends said, ‘dude, you need to put a reminder on your cell.’ Now, I’ve built up so many reminders that I’m busy most weeknights and my weekends are filled.”

At the same time, Nolan said he’s even too busy to take time to “work out at the school gym.” Nolan then concedes: “I guess I forgot to include a reminder in my cell that I need to work out? I’m busy sending and receiving texts and e-mails about going places to meet friends that I let my health slip. I had a soda habit, I wasn’t working out and I was eating a lot of fast food and other junk in the cafeteria because I was on the run all the time. I simply didn’t have time to talk care of myself.”

In turn, NPR offered this scenario: “Say you wake up at the crack of dawn Monday through Friday, but during the weekend you shift your schedule to later wake-up times and later sleep times. Roenneberg says the effect is as if you are switching time zones on the weekend.”

Also, Roenneberg says his theory about “social jet lagged youth” jells when considering a bunch of 20-something professionals — who say they generally are up much later on the weekends. None of them were overweight — or sleepy — but perhaps social jet lag catches up with people eventually.”

Socially jet lagged youth not healthy

The May 15 NPR report also cited Roenneberg’s student that was recent published in “Current Biology” that estimates that ‘for every hour of social jet lag, the risk of being overweight or obese rises about 33 percent.”

Whether disrupting your body clock has an effect on your weight — over and above the fact that it reduces the amount of sleep you get — is unclear, stated the NPR report, but it noted how “there's certainly a whole body of evidence linking too little sleep to weight problems.”

For instance, NPR asked Dr. Helene Emsellem of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland, if this “social jet lag” theory has merit; with Doctor Emsellem stating how “as sleep researchers, we do believe that there's an intimate relationship between insufficient sleep and the drive to store fat.”

Moreover, the doctor pointed to the connection between poor sleep and higher body weights “that’s been documented in shift workers such as nurses, in mothers of infants, and even in toddlers and teens. In some cases, people do eat more when their schedules are wacky.”

Too much tech messes with man’s hard-core brain wiring

But Doctor Emsellem also told NPR that “it's also possible that something more primitive is at play here.”

"Unfortunately, we have caveman's hard-core wiring," Emsellem says, "and insufficient sleep in primitive times was read by the body: Danger, store fat.”

Also, NPR pointed to other medical experts who say this may be just one of several complicated mechanisms linking sleep and weight, “but the important take-home message is this: Get your ZZZZ's!”

For example, Dr. Matthew Gillman, director of the Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School told NPR that: "We know if people sleep less, even starting in infants, that this leads to a greater risk of obesity.”

Moreover, Doctor Gillman acknowledges that the "sleep longer, sleep better" message is easier said than done. "I guess I'm a big offender, because I got up this morning at 4 a.m. to make a 6 o'clock flight."

Studies show that too much tech messes with sleep

It’s known that after watching TV or reading something online, the human brain just doesn’t shut down when it’s time to go to bed. In turn, sleep experts told NPR that they advise those people with sleep disorders to not have any technology in the bedroom.

In turn, Dr. Clete Kushida told NPR that more studies are needed “to investigate the effects of sleep ‘timing’ separately from sleep duration, though the two are inextricably linked.

Doctor Kushida, a sleep expert at Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, added how there’s "some evidence" that living "against the clock" is associated with higher BMI (body mass index).

So, in our crazy, go-go society, even the experts who have a hard time living told NPR that “it may be wise to start paying more attention to that internal clock” and limiting how much technology stimulation one takes in during the day.

At the same time, college students Nolan and girlfriend Tara think “it’s all about balance;” while pointing to their recent beach clean-up activities that got them away from their buzzing smartphones to help them break free from this “social jet-lagged” syndrome that’s harming one’s health while also impacting youth in a negative way, say experts.

Image source of college student Tara shutting down her social networking activities for a much needed time-out to help pay it forward and help clean-up local beaches of drift-wood and other debris. In turn, Tara said she slept a lot better working outside at the beach and getting such much needed fresh air after being “glued to my cell” to stay connected for various social gatherings at school. Photo by Dave Masko

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