Study Warns Extra Weekend Sleep Won't Make Up For Weekly Deficits

Chronic sleep deprivation throughout the working week is a problem impacting millions of people. The health consequences of not getting enough sleep are well-known, but less clear are the ramifications of a disordered, inconsistent sleep schedule. There's a popular belief that sleeping in on the weekend can make up for inadequate sleep during the week, but a new study warns that the extra hours won't make up for the deficit.

According to Harvard Medical School, even short-term sleep deprivation can have a big impact on one's waking hours, causing impaired judgement, mood issues, trouble retaining information, and more. Long-term sleep deprivation is worse, paving the way for serious health issues that include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and, potentially, premature death.

Despite the know risks, many people fail to get enough sleep every night, the reasons ranging from insomnia to young children, erratic work schedules, and working too many hours. To make up for insufficient sleep during the business week, many people catch a couple extra hours on their days off in hope of making up for the weekly sleep deficit.

Research out of the University of Colorado Boulder has found that catching up on sleep over the weekend only had a mild, temporary positive effect on one's sleep deficit. The benefits only lasted during the weekend, disappearing once the sleep-deprived work week resumed.

Researchers looked at three groups of people, one that was allowed to get restful sleep every day of the week, another that could sleep as much as they wanted on weekends (with a deficit the rest of the week), and another that experienced a sleep deficit every day of the study. In both of the sleep-restricted groups, the researchers found negative effects associated with a sleep deficit, including increased eating at night, weight gain, and decreased insulin sensitivity.

Despite the slight benefits associated with extra sleep on the weekend, the study found that this disordered sleep pattern (deficit during the week and too much on the weekend) had worse outcomes in other situations. Insulin sensitivity decreased by as much as 27-percent in these participants versus 13-percent in the group that was chronically sleep-deprived.

For someone who gets too little sleep only once or twice a week, sleeping in on the weekend may be a good way to help make up for the loss. However, the study indicates that frequent sleep deprivation may present issues that a couple extra hours won't compensate for, and that frequent yo-yo sleep cycles may lead to bigger metabolic issues.