What is 'SOCIAL JET LAG'?: Late Night Screen Time Fuels Teenage Psych Challenges



8/8/20233 min read



We live in an increasingly digital age, where social media and screen time have become an integral part of our daily lives. While the benefits of technology are undeniable, its excessive or inappropriate use can adversely affect the mental health of teenagers. Researchers are now shedding light on a phenomenon known as 'social jet lag,' a term used to describe the negative consequences of late-night screen time on teenagers' mental well-being. This article aims to explore what social jet lag is, its impact on psychological health, and the steps we can take to mitigate its effects.

Understanding Social Jet Lag:

Social jet lag refers to the misalignment between an individual's internal body clock (circadian rhythm) and their social schedule, primarily caused by irregular sleep patterns. For adolescents, spending excessive time on electronic devices late at night can disrupt their sleeping patterns, leading to inadequate sleep quantity and quality. This misalignment negatively affects their mental functioning and overall health, similar to the effects of jet lag experienced by extensive travelers.

“Screen use before sleep was associated with later chronotype and then greater social jet lag, which was further related to higher levels of emotional problems,” wrote the authors of the study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Researchers gathered data from two different surveys conducted among more than 4,000 Chinese high school students.

Survey participants reported their screen use before sleep, their chronotype — the body’s innate sleep schedule — and any emotional problems they might be experiencing.

The researchers found that teenagers who used screens, including cellphones, tablets and computers, before sleep tended to have a later chronotype and experienced greater social jet lag.

“The findings suggested that healthy media-use habits should be developed, and intervention strategies targeting circadian characteristics should be designated to promote emotional health in the adolescent population,” the study authors wrote.

The Impact on Teen Psych Problems:

1. Emotional Well-being:

Sleep deprivation due to social jet lag can exacerbate emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Teenagers may experience difficulty in regulating emotions, leading to heightened stress levels and emotional dysregulation.

2. Cognitive Impairment:

Insufficient sleep can hamper cognitive functions like memory, attention span, problem-solving abilities, and creativity. These deficits can impact academic performance and overall cognitive development in teenagers.

3. Social Isolation:

As teenagers prioritize screen time over sleep, they may become socially isolated, missing out on important face-to-face interactions. The lack of social connections can lead to feelings of loneliness and alienation, further impacting their mental health.

A number of health issues have been linked to irregular sleep schedules, especially among “night owls” whose chronotype leads them to stay up into the night and sleep late.

Recent research has found one reason night owls often have worse health: They tend to do more smoking and drink more alcohol than those who rise and shine earlier.

Earlier research has also found that exposure to blue light emitted by electronic screens can disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to delays in falling asleep, among other health issues.

That’s especially true when the screen content is stressful news or anxiety-provoking social media posts, a practice known as “doom scrolling.

Mitigating the Effects of Social Jet Lag:

1. Establish Consistent Sleep Patterns:

Encourage teenagers to establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This consistency, combined with adequate sleep duration, can help align their internal body clock with a healthier circadian rhythm.

2. Implement Screen Time Boundaries:

Set clear boundaries for screen time, especially during the nighttime hours. Encourage teenagers to limit screen exposure at least an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted by devices can interfere with their natural sleep-inducing hormones.

3. Promote Healthy Sleep Habits:

Create a sleep-friendly environment, ensuring their bedrooms are quiet, dark, and comfortable. Encourage relaxation techniques, such as reading or listening to soothing music before bedtime, to help wind down.

4. Promote Offline Interactions:

Encourage teenagers to participate in activities that promote offline social interactions, such as hobbies, sports, or community involvement. Encouraging face-to-face interactions not only combats social isolation but also helps them develop crucial social skills.


In an era dominated by technology, it is vital to acknowledge the adverse effects of social jet lag caused by late-night screen time on teenagers' psychological health. By implementing effective strategies to promote healthy sleep patterns and limit screen usage, we can reduce the impact of social jet lag and improve teenagers' mental well-being. Creating a healthier balance between screen time and offscreen activities is crucial in nurturing their cognitive development, emotional well-being, and fostering meaningful relationships. Let us prioritize their mental health and guide them towards a more balanced and fulfilling digital lifestyle.