We've all heard of travel jetlag. You know that surreal, confused and disconnected state of tiredness -- the feeling of being out of sync with the world around you. But researchers are now highlighting another sort of jetlag, one where no travel is required, yet the same off feeling may ensue. The term is social jetlag, and it occurs when there is a misalignment between biological and social sleep patterns, causing many people to be unproductive in a typical 9-to-5 working day.

So how exactly does social jetlag affect businesses? What does it mean to entrepreneurs? And what can employers do to manage it effectively?

The findings on social jetlag suggest when we sleep could be more crucial than how much sleep we get. And for many people, the socially-mandated waking and typical 9-to-5 schedule could conflict with their natural biological rhythms.

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The impact on business. What does this mean for entrepreneurs and managers? Essentially, that many workers are out of sync with their daily working schedules. A third of workers suffer from "extreme" jetlag -- a sleep misalignment of more than two hours. Many more people suffer from milder misalignment of up to an hour. This misalignment impacts performance and productivity, leading to reduced creativity and problem-solving capacity.

In addition to negatively affecting performance and productivity, social jetlag can have serious health consequences: increased smoking and higher caffeine and alcohol consumption, along with a greater risk of obesity. Social jetlag also appears to be more problematic in darker months and following periods of weekend readjustment to natural cycles, which may partially explain sickness trend data showing more frequent staff absences during winter months and on Mondays.

When the issues associated with social jetlag are compounded with the effects of sleep inertia (the gradual awakening of the brain each morning) the picture is bleak: An unhealthy, chronically fatigued, zombie-like workforce more likely to fall asleep at their desks than perform effectively.

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Finding a working solution
Clearly, the evidence shows that sub-optimal timing, quality and quantity of sleep is detrimental to work. So what’s the answer?

1. Rethink the concept of ‘office hours’. If a traditional 9-to-5 day doesn’t work for everyone, why make everyone work a 9-to-5 day. To minimize the impact of social jetlag on your business, there’s a strong argument for adjusting your company’s working day to accommodate the natural sleeping patterns of both "A-people" (early risers) and "B-people" (late risers).

2. Schedule meetings based on sleep research. If the data shows that a third of your team is jetlagged at nine in the morning and everyone else is suffering from sleep inertia, why schedule a creative session, project collaboration or client meeting for the same time? If you can’t tear up your company policy on working hours, the least you can do is arrange meetings that demand alertness and clear thinking for later in the day.

3. Assign work tasks for optimal performance times. Would you try and do complicated, original or innovative work while you were jetlagged from a flight? No. So don’t try it at the office. In the same way that formal meetings should be adjusted to mitigate sleep issues, day-to-day tasks can be structured around jetlag and inertia. How? Guide people to perform "auto-pilot" tasks such as email checking, document formatting and admin-type work for early mornings and leave work that requires creativity and complex problem-solving for later.

4. Encourage staff to manage their sleep better. Using normal alarms to wake you up is a bit of a lottery - fixed times and snooze buttons can be detrimental. But with a "smart alarm," it’s easier to wake up feeling refreshed. There are plenty of sleep apps out there that help you fall asleep, track your sleeping patterns and wake you up at the best point in your sleep cycle. So why not encourage staff to take on sleep as a personal project? 

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