Sleep 101: “Can I Make Up for Lost Sleep on the Weekend?”

Learning the truth will improve your well-being.

After a day (or days) of poor sleep, many of us use the weekend as an opportunity to make up for the lost rest. But does that strategy actually work? The answer is yes and no. 

Sleeping in on the weekend can be effective if your night of tossing and turning was recent. For example, if you slept poorly on Thursday evening and are able to sleep in on Saturday, you’ll have a chance of counteracting some of the damage from sleep deprivation, Fiona Barwick, Ph.D., director of the Cognitive Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University, tells Thrive. 

We’re never able to make up for lost sleep entirely, though. “If you’re using the weekend to catch up on a week’s worth of poor sleep, or poor sleep from earlier in the week, you’re out of luck,” Barwick says. “Your body clock has already been disrupted, and the damage is done.” 

The reason that making up for lost sleep on the weekend doesn’t work is because the effects of sleep deprivation — which range from decreased cognitive function to difficulty processing emotions to weight gain — happen immediately. 

This is a bit of a contention point for experts, Barwick points out, because some will say that sleeping in on the weekend is better than never making up for the lost sleep at all. Still, the most effective strategy, the one you should aim for, is to prioritize sleep on a nightly basis so you’re not tempted to play catch up later on. 

To help yourself prepare for sleep, try the Microstep of choosing a time each night to put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode. Intentionally blocking news and social media notifications will help put the day’s stressors behind you — and set you up for the uninterrupted sleep your immune system needs to operate at its best. 

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