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Do You Sleep in on Weekends? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t
When Saturday morning rolls around, you may be tempted to skip the alarm clock and grab a few extra hours of sleep.
After all, you had to wake up early all week — don’t you deserve it?
Unfortunately, regardless of how little sleep you got during the week, snoozing may actually have a negative impact on your overall sleep health.
And the later you sleep in on Saturday and Sunday, the more tired you’ll end up being at the beginning of the week. This starts a vicious cycle that’s hard to break free from.
Let’s explore why that is.
How Sleeping in Leads to “Social Jet Lag”
Sleeping in later on weekends may seem like it will help you catch up on the sleep you lost during the week, but it can actually do the opposite.
Your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s 24-hour internal sleep clock, is thrown off track if you wake up hours later on your days off.
This disruption of your circadian rhythm can lead to effects that are similar to jet lag, which some researchers call “social jet lag (1).”
Just like regular jet lag, social jet lag causes symptoms of sleep deprivation later on, because differences in sleep timing on weekdays versus weekends cause your circadian rhythm to be out of sync.
Over time, social jet lag can lead to various health problems, like weight gain, depression and insulin resistance — and people who have chronically out of sync sleep cycles are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which increases your risk for type 2 diabetes.
To top it off, sleep deprivation messes with your hormones — especially cortisol, your body’s “fight or flight” hormone. Cortisol is necessary for survival, but chronically high cortisol levels have negative impacts on your health.
Sleeping in is likely starting to look less attractive to you… but you sleep in for a reason, right? Let’s address that next.
Why You Need to Repay Your Sleep Debt
You sleep in on the weekends because you spend your weeks racking up sleep debt, which means you chronically sleep less than your body needs (most people need between 7 and 9 hours per night).
Your natural inclination is to sleep in to settle the score — but you now know that doesn’t work.
And the problem remains: if you build up sleep debt for months or years on end, it will eventually snowball until you’re at higher risk for serious health issues. What starts as brain fog and irritability can lead to heart disease and stroke.
So, if sleeping to repay sleep debt in is a bad idea… what should you do instead?
How to Repay Sleep Debt — Without Sleeping In
A better way to repay your sleep debt is to be less extreme: try weekend wake-up times that are no more than an hour later than your weekday wake-up time — and add in an afternoon nap on weekends.
Napping helps because naps help your body pay back sleep debt without disrupting your circadian rhythm the way sleeping in does. And research shows naps can help you feel more mentally alert, happier, and more creative (2).
If you’re feeling severely sleep-deprived on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, nap for a full 90 minutes. If you’re just a tad on the tired side, a 20-30 minute nap should do the trick.
A couple of things to keep in mind: be careful not to nap for too long, as you may wake up groggy, which is the opposite of what you want — and try to avoid napping after 4 p.m., because a nap that late may interfere with your ability to fall asleep that night.
By napping instead of sleeping in, you avoid the circadian rhythm disruptions that sleeping in creates, but you still feel rested on the weekends. Win, win.
More Sleep Debt Strategies
If napping isn’t your thing or you’re up to your eyes in sleep debt, there are other things you can do to improve your sleep health overall (which will gradually repay your sleep debt). Try putting these tips into action:
- Make sure you have a regular bedtime and wake-time that doesn’t vary by more than an hour each day. This can help your body to regulate its circadian rhythm.
- Keep electronics out of your bedroom, as they can disrupt your sleep.
- Use blue-light blocking glasses if you have to use electronics in the 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Switch your alcoholic drink for a calming herbal tea to help you wind down without affecting your sleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
Break the Vicious Cycle
Most experts agree that ignoring your alarm clock on weekends is a bad idea.
Even though you may want to “catch up” on sleep, sleeping in on weekends can keep the vicious cycle of sleep debt going. Fortunately, you now know that napping (and improving your sleep health in general) is a better way to repay your sleep debt.
Did we miss any of your go-to strategies for catching up on sleep? Let us know in the comments.
(1) Geddes, Linda. “Social jetlag – are late nights and chaotic sleep patterns making you ill?" The Guardian, 21 Jan. 2019, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/21/social-jetlag-are-late-nights-and-chaotic-sleep-patterns-making-you-ill
(2) Oppong, Thomas. “The Biggest Brain Benefits of Taking a Daily Nap." Thrive Global, 9 Feb. 2018, www.medium.com/thrive-global/the-biggest-brain-benefits-of-taking-a-daily-nap-c82d1b0f15a0