To sleep or not to sleep late on the weekend. That’s the question for all of us weekday warriors.
It seems that the experts can’t seem to make up their minds on this. On one hand, we’re told to stick to a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at and rise at the same time every day. That seemed like sound, straightforward advice. Then along came a Swedish study that has muddied the waters and cast some doubt on a strict sleep routine.
In a study published by the Journal of Sleep in May 2018, researchers from the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University tracked more than 38,000 people. Over the course of 13 years, they studied their weekend versus weekday sleeping habits.
Many previous sleep studies asked participants to chart their hours of sleep over a period of time, without taking into account differences between workday or weekend. And the conclusion was grim. People under the age of 65 who slept less than 5 hours or less every night, all week long, failed to live as long as sleepers who slept 7 hours a night consistently. But the Swedish study found this was not the case when short-changed snoozers caught up on their sleep with an extra hour or two on weekends. They lived just as long as those habitual 7-hour sleepers.
Some sleep experts are uncertain about the conclusions though. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine is one doubter. He said that sleep is not like financial transaction where you can deposit sleep over the weekend and cash in on it later.
Bill Tuck, co-founder of Tuck.com and a certified sleep science coach says, “It directly contradicts the majority of suggestions I provide to people about their sleep patterns.” He says that our bodies love a routine. “As a matter of fact, our circadian rhythm is just that – a 24-hour internal clock that moderates when we need rest.”
To think that it’s good to get 5 hours of sleep each night during the week and then 9 hours nightly on the weekends is far from a routine. The study also talks about life span, not the way people feel on a daily basis, according to Tuck. “I’m not sure about most people, but if I don’t get a decent amount of sleep during the week, I may be cranky and not feel well, yet I’m not worried that I am going to die. When you look at it that way, it seems to me that the study is creating false expectations.”
As he points out, since the beginning of time, when the sun comes up, humans woke to hunt, take care of the crops, etc. At sunset, it was time to rest. In 2018, our body clocks are still the same, and considering that sleep is the third pillar of wellness along with diet and exercise, emphasis should be put on giving your body the rest it deserves nightly on a consistent basis.
“I’d love to see a single dietary study that says you could eat mounds of fast food all week, but as long as you eat healthy on weekends, you’ll be fine,” he says. “Or a fitness coach suggesting you act like a sloth all week, but then get in a couple big workouts on the weekend. It simply doesn’t match up. Take care of your body on a daily basis, and you will feel great.”
Ashley Little of MattressAdvisor.com also has some concerns about the finding of the Swedish study. “The philosophy behind sleeping late on the weekend is that it can help you ‘catch up’ on what you miss during the week,” she says. “Theoretically, sleeping a little extra on the weekend to compensate for your missed hours on weeknights can be better than skimping on sleep 7 nights a week. However, there also are potential negative impacts to this schedule. Not only can you fall into a sort of social jet lag from your shifted weekend schedule, it also throws off your overall consistency of sleep.”
Beyond expert opinion, there’s a pile of research that backs up the merits of consistency and sticking to a sleep routine. Studies show that people suffering from chronic insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder.
Though we know you want to sleep late on the weekends, do so cautiously. Take a short nap, if you feel the need to top up your sleep. During weeknights, longstanding expert advice still rules:
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