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鈥檛 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鈥檙e already missing out on sleep during the week, catching up on the weekend won鈥檛 necessarily extend your life any more than if you just get six to seven hours every night, but it could mean that you鈥檙e not increasing your risk of mortality.

Woman sleeping

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, 鈥淚 worry about studies like this, because we鈥檙e 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鈥檚 health. Sleep deprivation can impact anxiety, depression, ADHD, and memory.鈥

The main concern among experts is that just because you can 鈥渃atch up鈥 on sleep on the weekends doesn鈥檛 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, 鈥淥ur 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.鈥

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鈥檛 look at.

鈥淭he study talks about lifespan, not the way people feel on a daily basis,鈥 Fish points out. 鈥淧ersonally, if I don鈥檛 get enough sleep, I鈥檓 not concerned that I鈥檓 going to die, but I鈥檓 crabby and don鈥檛 feel well.鈥 In addition, a long-term disrupted sleeping pattern can affect your ability to get to sleep when you want to. 鈥淐atching up on sleep tends to mess up our circadian clocks, which often leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of insomnia,鈥 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 enjoyable and that you don鈥檛 absolutely need to do. 鈥淚f you have kids, ask them which school meetings or events are most important to them, and don鈥檛 go to the others,鈥 he says. 鈥淯se that time for sleep.鈥

Teitelbaum, who readily admits that he takes the chance to sleep late when he can, says that this is the bottom line: 鈥淪leeping in on weekends won鈥檛 decrease the health risks of not getting enough sleep during the week. But it doesn鈥檛 hurt either.鈥 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!

(Photo via Getty)