The idea of catching up on lost sleep during the weekend apparently doesn’t work as well as many of us hope it does.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and published in the Feb. 28 issue of Current Biology found that catching up on lost sleep may even backfire.
Researchers asked a group of 36 participants to stay two weeks at the Clinical Translational Research Center. While there, their food intake, light exposure and sleep were closely monitored, according to a news release from the university.
After baseline testing, they were divided into three groups: one was allowed to sleep up to nine hours a night; the second was allowed only five hours a night during the same period; and the third was allowed only five hours of sleep for five nights followed by a weekend where they could sleep as much as they liked before returning to two days of restricted sleep.
Both groups that were sleep deprived ate more at night, gained weight and had a decrease in insulin sensitivity (the ability to regulate blood sugar). While the group that slept in during the weekend ate fewer nighttime snacks on the weekend, they went right back to that habit when they experienced short sleep.
The weekend recovery group’s insulin sensitivity also declined by 9% to 27%. The group that had constant sleep restriction saw insulin sensitivity worsen by 13%.
“Our findings suggest that the common behavior of burning the candle during the week and trying to make up for it on the weekend is not an effective health strategy,” said senior author Kenneth Wright, an integrative physiology professor and director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab. “It could be that the yo-yoing back and forth — changing the time we eat, changing our circadian clock and then going back to insufficient sleep is uniquely disruptive.”
It is possible for weekend recovery sleep to work well for people who sleep too little only occasionally, maybe a night or two per week, he added.
The big takeaway is simply, be consistent. Get sufficient sleep on a regular schedule.