Sleeping in on the weekend increases health risks.

Sleeping in on the weekend increases health risks.

I slept in this morning, waking up at the ungodly hour of 9:30am. Usually, I get up at 7:00am for work, but if I don’t set an alarm, I will sleep until 9am – almost always. Studies suggest that people tend to be either early risers or night owls, depending on their genetic make-up. If your parents were night owls, then chances are, you might be one too.

Sadly for night owls, the world of professional work seems to be designed in a way that favours early risers. 

So Monday through to Friday I’m catching the worm with all of the other early birds, then on Saturday and Sunday, I cannot be stirred from my slumber. In the back of my mind, I justify this behaviour by how exhausted I am from the work week. 

Technically, I’m sleep deprived during the week. I feel the need to make up for those missed hours in bed on the weekend. But does this actually work? New research suggests that sleeping-in on the weekend is not particularly useful, and may actually be causing you harm.

What is sleep deprivation?

In most cases, less than 7 hours of sleep per night would be considered sleep deprivation.

Most people I know would be sleep deprived then.

Yes, many people are sleep deprived. It’s become something of a badge of honour in the workforce. It seems there is something of a cultural shift happening around this now though, as people are slowly realising just how important sleep is.

But if everyone is sleep deprived, surely it can’t be too bad?

Studies have shown that continued sleep deprivation can impede brain function, making it difficult to focus and giving a similar effect to being drunk - not great if you’re behind the wheel on your work/school commute. Insufficient sleep also reduces immune function, making you more likely to get sick. Your risk of developing depression and chronic disease also skyrockets.

Sleep is a basic human need. If you’re not getting enough of it now, it will catch up with you later on.

No need to be so dramatic. I’ve noticed I eat more chocolate when I’m tired. Why is this?

Not getting enough sleep affects the hormones that regulate our hunger; leptin and ghrelin. Changes in these hormones can cause you to feel less satisfied with your meals and generally hungrier.

You’re far more likely to reach make poor food choices when you’re tired. It’s also quite well-documented that people consume more food and gain weight when they aren’t getting enough sleep.

Can you get used to having less than 7 hours of sleep? Like, can your body adjust to it?

No, the body never adjusts to it. You will continue to suffer the negative side effects of sleep deprivation, until you get enough sleep for an extended period of time. 

The interesting thing is, often people don’t realise they are sleep deprived. Particularly if they are always sleep deprived. They simply forget how it feels to be well-rested.

How do I know if I’m getting enough sleep?

There are some great apps you can use to find out how much sleep you’re getting each night. If you have any sleep anxiety, however, avoid these apps like the plague. They may end up increasing your anxiety and prevent you from falling asleep.

If I don’t get enough shut-eye from Monday to Friday, a lie in on the weekend will serve me well for the week ahead, right?

No. Sleep quality is just as important as quantity. More sleep is not always better, particularly if it means you are disturbing your sleep routine.

A recent study looked at the effect of weekend sleep-ins on health. This study compared two groups of young adults:

  • Group A: slept 5 hours per night, for 7 days a week

  • Group B: slept 5 hours per night, for 5 days, followed by a weekend (2 days) of sleeping in

The study found that both groups had increased energy intakes and gained weight. Results also revealed that the group that slept in on the weekends had disrupted circadian rhythms and increased insulin sensitivity.  

So, sleeping in on the weekend may be associated with reduced sleep quality and an increased risk of developing diabetes. Not good.

I don’t believe it. How could sleeping in on the weekend possibly be worse for you than extended sleep deprivation?

If the body loves one thing, it’s routine. Sleep is dictated by our circadian rhythm – our biological sleep clock. Creating regular night time and morning routines will regulate these rhythms so that your body knows when to send you to sleep and when to wake you up.

Going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time is a very effective, scientifically-proven strategy to increase your sleep quality. 

How much sleep do I really need? Sometimes I feel fine after 5 hours.

There is a teeny tiny percentage of people that requires less than 7 hours sleep. Chances are, this is probably not you.

You should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. There are few exceptions to this:

  • Children need closer to 10 hours.

  • If you’re aged over 60, you may need slightly less sleep.

The 7-9 hours does not include the time it takes us to fall asleep. Nor does it include the time spent awake through the night. The precise amount of sleep we need is dependent on our unique biological chemistry. With some experimentation, you will be able to figure out exactly the amount of sleep that you need. 

You may already have a sense of how much sleep you need. Perhaps your problem is that you struggle to achieve this ideal amount. 

Keep in mind, if you’re getting up at 5:00am to go to the gym, but not going to bed early, you may actually be jeopardising your health. If you’re regularly staying up late to study or finish a work project, you may be jeopardising your cognitive function and work quality. 

There are never enough hours in a day, so do what you can to use your time effectively. Sleep is essential to everything else we do, so it should be at the top of our priority list.

What time do I need to go to bed?

You should allow an extra 30 minutes of time to fall asleep, on top of your individual sleep requirements. For example, if you want to get a solid 8 hours of sleep, and your alarm clock is set for 7:00am, I would recommend turning the lights off at 10:30pm. 

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is not realistic for me. Sorry, I live in the real world. What else can I do to improve my sleep quality?

Read up on what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Avoid alcohol or caffeine consumption 4-6 hours before bedtime

  2. Keep your bedroom dark and cool, ideally around 19°C

  3. Nail your sleep routine – create relaxing habits that tell your mind it’s time for bed; have a bath, read a book, drink a glass of warm milk, burn relaxing lavender essential oils, write in a journal or try doing some meditation

  4. Make your circadian clock work in your favour:

    • avoid blue light (mobile phones, TVs, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed

    • as soon as you wake up, open the curtains or walk outside in the sun

Sweet dreams,

Lucy x

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