Sleeping in on the Weekends Could Be Good for Your Life Expectancy
If your weekday routine consists of dragging yourself out of bed after less than five hours of sleep, a recent study is giving you the go-ahead to turn off your alarm this weekend and sleep in. Conducted in Sweden with over 43,000 participants over 13 years, the study from the Journal of Sleep Research found that people under 65 who had five hours of sleep or less on weeknights but made up for it by sleeping for nine hours or longer on weekends had no increased risk of mortality compared to people in the same age group who slept for six to seven hours every night.
The downside of the findings was that even after taking into account factors like smoking, BMI (body mass index), and physical activity levels, people under 65 who didn't catch up on their sleep on weekends, after getting five hours or less every night in the week, were over 50 percent more likely to die over the duration of the study than those consistently getting six to seven hours.
So if you're already missing out on sleep during the week, catching up on the weekend won't necessarily extend your life any more than if you just get six to seven hours every night, but it could mean that you're not increasing your risk of mortality.
The Downside of Sleeping In
At first read, this seems to contradict what experts have been telling us about the difficulty of correcting sleep deficits. If we can get away with less sleep during the week and catch up on the weekend, then why are we always being told to aim for that consistent six- to eight-hour sweet spot?
Before you let yourself off the hook for staying up for just one more episode of your favorite Netflix show every weeknight, hear out the experts. California-based psychiatrist and sleep specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu says, “I worry about studies like this, because we're already a sleep-deprived society. Just look at the lines in Starbucks! Catching up on sleep does work to some extent, but suffering from sleep deprivation along the way can be dangerous, both because it causes accidents, and [it can affect] an individual's health. Sleep deprivation can impact anxiety, depression, ADHD, and memory."
The main concern among experts is that just because you can “catch up" on sleep on the weekends doesn't mean that this is the healthiest approach. As anyone who has struggled to fall asleep on a Sunday night knows, one of the problems with switching up your bedtimes is that it confuses your natural body clock. As Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach in Seattle, explains it, “Our bodies love routine, and our circadian rhythm is just that: a 24-hour internal clock that moderates when we need rest. Getting five hours of sleep during the week, and then nine hours on the weekends, breaks up that routine. Take care of your body every day, and you will see the rewards."
Although we tend to think about our lives in week-long slots of seven days, our bodies are operating on that 24-hour cycle. Switching between bouts of short and long sleep, instead of consistently sticking to about seven hours every night, confuses this (and explains why you feel so lousy when your alarm goes off way too early), which is something the study didn't look at.
“The study talks about lifespan, not the way people feel on a daily basis," Fish points out. “Personally, if I don't get enough sleep, I'm not concerned that I'm going to die, but I'm crabby and don't feel well." In addition, a long-term disrupted sleeping pattern can affect your ability to get to sleep when you want to. “Catching up on sleep tends to mess up our circadian clocks, which often leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of insomnia," Dimitriu cautions.
How to Get More Sleep During the Week
According to the experts, your best bet is to aim for six to seven hours every single night. Feel like there's no way you can do this during the week? In order to free up some time, Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, board-certified internist and sleep expert, suggests taking a hard look at your obligations and tasks and cutting back on the things that aren't enjoyable and that you don't absolutely need to do. “If you have kids, ask them which school meetings or events are most important to them, and don't go to the others," he says. “Use that time for sleep."
Teitelbaum, who readily admits that he takes the chance to sleep late when he can, says that this is the bottom line: “Sleeping in on weekends won't decrease the health risks of not getting enough sleep during the week. But it doesn't hurt either." BRB, just turning off the alarm.
Do you jump out of bed on the weekends or do you love to sleep in? Let us know @BritandCo!
This article was previously published in June 2018 and has been updated.