Researchers say you can’t undo the damage of bad sleep and you might even create other health problems.
Sleeping in on the weekend won’t erase the negative health effects of sleep deprivation during the week.
In fact, the rebound sleep could compound health problems associated with getting too little sleep night after night.
That’s according to a new study published today in Current Biology.
For decades, researchers have known sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of health issues, including weight gain and diabetes.
“Sleep debt can increase depressive symptoms, worsen anxiety, lead to substance use, cause weight gain and slow metabolism, worsen inflammation, and impair memory,” Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine, and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, told Healthline.
To make up for sleep loss, many people try to pay their “sleep debt” by sleeping in on the weekends.
It’s been unclear what that effect might have on the damage done by sleep loss, so a team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder created a lab scenario to study just that.
The researchers recruited a group of healthy young adults with no existing sleep disorders or health issues.
Each was assigned to one of three groups.
The first group was allowed plenty of sleep, up to nine hours every night for nine nights.
The second group was only allowed five hours of sleep each night over the same nine nights.
The third and final group was allowed five hours of sleep for five days. Then they were allowed two nights of weekend sleep during which they could sleep as much as they liked, naps included. Finally, they returned to two days of restricted sleep.
The data showed that the two sleep-restricted groups snacked more after dinner, which ultimately led to weight gain during the nine-day test. In addition, their blood sugar sensitivity fell by about 13 percent.
The group that was allowed to sleep as much as they wanted on the weekend slept an average of only one hour more. But they consumed fewer calories after dinner than the people who still got insufficient sleep during that time. Despite this, their sensitivity to insulin remained diminished.
When the third group returned to their sleep-restricted schedule after two days of unrestricted sleep, all of the benefits of the extra sleep — as minimal as they were — were erased.
What’s more, this third group showed reduced insulin sensitivity in their liver and muscles, which was not seen in the group that wasn’t allowed catchup sleep over the weekend.
“Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep,” Christopher Depner, PhD, an assistant professor of research at the University of Colorado Boulder and the study lead author, said in a press release. “This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely [to be] an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic.”
These results point to what Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, co-founder and chief medical officer of FusionHealth in Atlanta, calls the “sleep health debt.”
You may try to make up hours of sleep by getting more sleep later, but you can’t make up or repair the damage done to your body during the days you didn’t get enough shut-eye.
“Sleep is a fundamental daily building block for the health of your body, brain, and mind,” Durmer told Healthline. “If you do not get enough sleep, your health is impacted directly, and this may or may not recover with additional sleep.”
In the short term, sleep deprivation may cause , reduced reaction time, and difficulty with problem solving.
The day after a poor night of sleep, you may experience specifically for high-calorie foods.
“Your brain is dependent on the recovery function of sleep,” Durmer said. “All neurons require sleep to replenish neurochemicals like neurotransmitters that communicate between neurons, which is how your brain provides you with alertness, various cognitive functions, emotional regulation, physical movement, sensation, and integration for learning and development.”
Chronic sleep deprivation is to an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. Chronic sleep deficiency is also linked to an increased risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases.
“Just one night of only 6 hours of sleep leads to a doubling of serious car accidents, and after 10 to 14 days, it is the youth’s equivalent of drunk,” Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Healthline.
He added that new parents often experience inefficient sleep in addition to insufficient sleep. The sleep parents with newborns and infants do get is broken into pieces, which makes it less restorative.
“For many, it feels like torture. In fact, we torture people — or train special forces to endure torture — by putting them through extended sleep deprivation and the sound of screaming babies over loud speakers,” Karp said.
“Sleep hygiene is the practices that we have before we go to bed and how we set up our sleep environment,” says Amy Korn-Reavis, MBA, a clinical sleep educator. “The best way to make up for sleep loss is to have a strong sleep routine and plan to make your sleep an important part of your day.”
Put a routine in place. Establish a set of practices that you can repeat nightly. This may include drinking a cup of tea and reading a book for 30 minutes before getting dressed for bed. As you do your nightly ritual, your body will learn this is the signal to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Plan for adequate sleep.The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults get seven or more hours of sleep nightly. If you have a specific time you must be up every day, work your bedtime back from that point to establish the hour at which you turn in.
Create a sleep-inducing space. Make your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. A white noise machine or fan can help drown out sounds or create a comforting level of noise that may help you sleep.
Make your bed welcoming. If your bed is not comforting or your pillows and sheets are irritating, you may struggle to relax enough for adequate sleep. An investment in a quality mattress, good sheets, and supportive pillows is an investment in your health.
Leave your phone outside. The bright lights of smartphones, tablets, and laptops may stimulate your brain. That can make sleep allusive. “We should not have electronic devices next to the bed, and we should not use them at least 30 to 45 minutes before bed,” Korn-Reavis says.
Be consistent with your bedtime, even on weekends. With the data from this study, it’s clear the harms of weekend sleep may outweigh the benefits. “This practice of keeping the same wake time throughout the week and into the weekend is linked to feeling sharper and having an improved mood during the day,” says Conor Heneghan, who leads sleep research at Fitbit. “By waking up at the same time every day, our bodies can have a more regulated sleep cycle, which can lead to overall improved nighttime sleep.”
Talk with your doctor. “If you are suffering with a sleep timing issue, such as a mismatched internal body clock with a shift-work position, you may need to incorporate clinical grade sleep and wake treatments to help you alter the activation and deactivation of your sleep and wake systems to better correspond with your ‘off-shift’ environment,” Durmer says. Likewise, your doctor may diagnose an underlying medical condition that makes getting adequate sleep difficult.
“The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catchup sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep-loss-induced disruptions of metabolism,” Kenneth Wright, PhD, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder and one of the study researchers, said in the press release.
Make sleep during the week a priority. Resist the temptation to sleep less every night in favor of sleeping in on the weekends.
You won’t make up as much sleep as you believe and you can’t recover from the damage a loss of sleep does to your body in that brief period of time.