The Science-Backed Case for Not Sleeping In on Weekends

You'll thank us on Monday.

Courtesy of Aleksey Boyko / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Aleksey Boyko / Shutterstock

“So glad it’s Friday!”

How many times have we heard — and said — those words at the end of a long week?

We often think of the weekend as a time to relax, connect with friends, and catch up on sleep. With hours of freedom stretching before us on a Saturday or Sunday morning, there’s no reason not to keep hitting snooze… right? While the weekend is the perfect time to unwind and spend time with the people we care about, it actually isn’t the ideal time to compensate for the sleep we lost during our weeknights — and here’s why.

You can’t “repay” a sleep deficit 

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder suggest that sleeping in on the weekends in an attempt to make up for a sleep deficit actually isn’t an effective strategy. Not only does their research suggest that we start to feel adverse health impacts after only one night of lost sleep, it also found that there is no metabolic benefit for people who get more sleep on the weekend. In their 2019 study, the researchers divided participants into three groups. One group was allowed to sleep nine hours each night for nine nights, the second was allowed five hours each night over the same period of time, and the last group was given no more than five hours of sleep each night for five nights, followed by a weekend of unlimited sleep and two more nights of restricted sleep. 

The study produced some interesting results: Both of the sleep-restricted groups ate more at night, gained more weight, and experienced a decline in their insulin sensitivity. Although participants who could sleep in on Saturday and Sunday saw some improvements in these symptoms over the weekend, they quickly experienced the same decline once they returned to a sleep-restricted schedule. “It could be that the yo-yo-ing back and forth — changing the time we eat, changing our circadian clock and then going back to insufficient sleep is uniquely disruptive,” Kenneth Wright, Ph.D., the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab and a senior author of the study, says

The bottom line? Sleep — but not too much

Although it can be tempting to log a few extra weekend zzz’s if your weekday sleep schedule is less than ideal, research shows that trying to catch up on sleep during the weekend may not be effective if you aren’t getting sufficient rest during the week.

Our bodies respond better to routine than to games of catch-up — so if you want to feel both well-rested and prepared for the week ahead, your best bet is to try to stick to a more normal sleep schedule even when you don’t need to go into work. Snoozing until noon will only drive your body further out of rhythm, making it harder to adjust to the work week. To create a stronger sense of routine on the weekends, try setting an alarm for 30 minutes before your bedtime. That way, you can gently remind yourself it is time to get ready for rest, and ultimately feel more prepared for the work week ahead.

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