The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours per night, and yet, if you’re like many, you receive less than this amount on a regular basis — and are therefore clinically qualified as “sleep-deprived.” And sleep deprivation is a health condition with serious concerns if left unchecked. Still, you probably don’t blink at an hour (or several hours) of lost sleep during the week… because it can just be made up on the weekend, right? As it turns out, this “common sense” approach may not be so sensible at all, leaving you susceptible to the very consequences of sleep deprivation that you’re hoping your Saturday/Sunday snoozefest will help you avoid. Oof!
We’ll dive into the mechanics behind weekday vs. weekend sleep in a moment, but before we do, let’s uncover why sleep deprivation is so bad in the first place.
Sleep Deprivation: Anything but Your Friend
Time for some facts. The CDC reports that over a third of American adults fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis. And the scary part is that sleep loss is cumulative, so missing an hour here or there can lead to something called sleep debt if the habit is frequent. Sleep loss can alter how your brain operates, affecting the normal functioning of cognitive abilities like attention and memory. The negative effects of sleep deprivation include the following:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty learning new concepts
- Trouble concentrating
Besides these troubling health concerns, sleep deprivation is EXTREMELY dangerous for people who drive on a regular basis. In fact, studies have shown that drowsy drivers are similarly at risk for getting into a car accident as drunk drivers! Sleep deprivation, whether due to just one night of poor zzz’s or chronic sleep issues, can have serious implications for your health and life.
And Catching Up on Sleep During the Weekend Won’t Help
But “hey!,” you say. “I’m really busy, and while I know sleep deprivation is bad, I really don’t have any other option during the week. Is it really so terrible to catch up on the sleep I can’t get on weekdays over the weekend?”
Unfortunately, friend, yes, it is. Sleep deprivation is serious, and research has proven that sleeping in on the weekend just doesn’t work to fix it.
Here’s what you need to know. One study specifically observed the habit of sleeping in on the weekend to recover sleep lost during the week. It was completed over a two-week period, and participants were divided into three groups. The first group slept nine hours every night, the second group slept five hours during the week without any extra sleep on the weekends, and the third group slept five hours during the week and got extra sleep on the weekends.
Researchers found that those who were sleep-deprived (meaning they got less than seven hours of sleep per night) experienced changes in their metabolism, displayed a 13% drop in insulin sensitivity, and gained an average of three pounds during the study. The group allowed to catch up on sleep over the weekend saw no improvement in these markers, and their sleep quality actually got worse when they went back to their five-hour weekday sleep schedule. The lesson here is that sleeping on the weekend really doesn’t do anything for your health or the sleep debt you accumulate during a week of poor sleep. It’s far more beneficial to stick to a consistently good sleep schedule than to play catch up on the weekends.
How to Actually Repay Your Sleep Debt
The good news is that you can actually repay your sleep debt. It will take some work, but the effort will be well worth it.
- Start by figuring out your ideal amount of sleep. On your next long vacation or holiday (a weekend is not enough — you need a decent amount of time here), go to bed at a normal hour for you, but don’t set your alarm. Track how much sleep you need in order to feel rested over a period of several days. Some people need just seven hours to feel on top of the world, while others function at their best with eight or more. This will act as your baseline as you start the journey to repaying your sleep debt.
- Examine your routine. Determine exactly when will you need to go to bed and wake up in order to meet this “sleep goal” while still getting all of the things done that you need to each day. If “getting everything done” while achieving adequate sleep seems laughable, track your time each day for a week. It’s likely that there are areas where you can cut back or adjust habits in order to give yourself more time for sleep. Maybe it’s shutting off your TV or favorite Netflix show an hour earlier, or getting healthy takeout a few nights a week instead of cooking a meal. Lifestyle habits are never easy to adjust, but the increased sleep will be SO worth it.
- Now, put the rubber to the road. With ideal sleep/wake times set, you can start incorporating this new sleep/wake time into your lifestyle. Let’s say you normally go to bed at 11:30pm, but want to start hitting the hay at 9:30pm in order to get enough sleep for a 5:30am wake-up call. Subtract 15 minutes from your normal bedtime each week until you get to the 9:30pm goal. If you start by jumping to 9:30pm automatically, you’ll be left tossing and turning — not fun.
- Give yourself some slack. Changing your normal rhythms will take time, and you will have bumps along the road. Don’t beat yourself up. Remind yourself of all the good that will come from a more consistent sleep routine, and try again the next day. We promise you won’t regret it.
When to Talk To Your Doctor
Persistent sleep deprivation despite changes in lifestyle could be a sign of sleep apnea. If loud, chronic snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, or sore throats/headaches in the morning sound familiar to you, you may benefit from sleep apnea treatment. To learn more about sleep apnea and start the path to great sleep, contact us today.