Intellectual shift workers have to manage social jet lag, says Maria Popova

For years, I’ve been trying to get a close friend to give in to her body clock. Her natural sleep rhythms are so disrupted by the office workday that she’s developed a cascade of coping mechanisms (coffee, food, pharmaceuticals) that draw her farther and farther away from health and productivity. The ‘work’ in her workday is consistently deterred by the fatigue-driven fog in her mind.

Now, German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg has uncovered some new science behind the wisdom of following one’s bio rhythms. Our technology and industry-driven transition away from natural sleep cycles have caused a new stressor called ‘social jet lag.’ We experience social jet lag when the demands of external life go against the body’s normal circadian rhythms. An early work schedule can be to blame and it’s a particular problem for teens and school hours. Maria Popova explains the research in Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.


I went native with my sleep cycle after my last desk job. I got rid of my alarm clock, slept as much or as little as I liked, and gave in graciously when fatigue pulled me away from work. At the beginning, I was afraid of becoming lazy and unfocused. Instead, I became calm and clear, and my productivity increased. Now I work when I’m alert, sleep when I’m tired, and often stop to recharge with meditation or hypnosis. I still have social jet lag, mostly from having a partner at a five-hour time difference, but understanding the sleep science helps me mediate the effects.

About Anne L'Ecuyer

Anne is a strategist, facilitator and consultant who stays closely connected to an international network of city leaders, cultural professionals, and individual artists. She is an expert in the creative industries and cultural tourism in the United States, as well as the contributions of the arts toward educational, social, and environmental goals.
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