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Why sleeping in on weekends does not reverse weekday sleep deficits

12-03-2014

Why sleeping in on weekends does not reverse weekday sleep deficits

So you work hard all week, getting up early to get in to work. Then along comes the weekend and you figure that you will sleep in to catch up on the sleep you have missed during the week. A few more hours on Saturday and Sunday morning should help you to make up for those lost hours during the week, right? Wrong! In fact, sleeping in on the weekend does not only not do anything for those lost hours but is actually worse for you than getting the same amount of sleep as you get on a week night.

The old 9 to 5 workday is a thing of the past, most of us now are lucky if we can get away with an 8 to 6 workday. This means that unless we decide to go to bed when the sun goes down, the chances are we are not going to get enough sleep during weeknights. Most experts recommend an average of 7 hours a night but for many busy people this seems like a dream rather than a reality.

Sleep in to make it up
No worries though, all you need to do is sleep in during the weekend, right? Nope. While this may seem like the ideal way to catch up on those hours of sleep you missed out on during the week the reality is that this not only doesn't work but is actually worse for you than if you just slept the same amount each night over the weekend as you do during the week.

How does this work?
This seems to be counter-intuitive to most of us. It seems to make sense that all you need to do is sleep longer in the weekend to make up for those lost hours but the reality is that it plays havoc with the body clock, which is the key function that controls sleep timing. The body clock craves routine, it wants you to go to bed at the same time each night and to get up around the same time each morning. There are a vast range of complex physiological processes that it must orchestrate each and every day to get your body and mind to go to sleep and wake up. By trying to sleep in during the weekend you are throwing this all out of whack and you will be punished!

The consequences
The main consequences of trying to sleep in over the weekend is that you will actually find it harder to get up on Monday morning because you have thrown your body clock into disarray. This means that you will then take a few days to get back into your weekday routine, only to go and change it all again on the weekend. The body clock is always playing catch up and this is bad for you.

The alternative
Fortunately there is an alternative way to catch up on lost sleep. It is called the power nap. Yes, the good old power nap can help you to recover from an exhausting weekend without throwing your body clock off. Just have a 20 to 30 minute nap during the weekend (or maybe two!) and you will repay your sleep debt in no time.


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