Is Sleeping In on the Weekend Bad for You?

As of April 2022, research was mixed on the answer—and experts said a consistent sleep schedule is still your healthiest option

Many of us don't sleep as much as we should. So when the weekend rolls around, it can be tempting to sleep in, in an attempt to catch up on all those lost hours.

But does catching up on this so-called sleep debt really work? Some studies have suggested that it might; others have cautioned against it. Experts say you shouldn't make a habit of it.

To learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of weekend sleep, Health looked at scientific studies and spoke with leading researchers in the field. Here's what we found out.

Your Brain on Sleep Debt

Sleep doctors have long preached the importance of getting a full night's sleep. For most adults between the ages of 18-60, that means seven or more hours a night, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Consistently getting less than six hours of sleep a night can negatively affect your health, including your metabolism, mental health, and heart system. Even temporary periods of short sleep can lead to impairments in mood and concentration levels. The CDC said one night of insufficient sleep could affect your mood and productivity.

And one paper published in March 2022 in the journal Clocks & Sleep said that short sleep duration increased the risk of infection and decreased the antibody response following vaccination, reducing vaccination benefits.

As of April 2022, Mixed Research on Weekend Sleep Catch-Ups

In May 2018, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research provided a beacon of hope that maybe some of these negative effects can be made up for by getting extra sleep over the weekend. The study followed more than 43,000 adults in Sweden for 13 years and compared death rates in that time period with participants' self-reported sleep habits.

The researchers found that adults younger than 65 who consistently slept five or fewer hours were 65% more likely to die early than those who slept six to seven hours a night on average. (Sleeping eight or more hours a night was also associated with an increased risk, of 25%.)

But those who reported short sleep during the week and long sleep on the weekends seemed protected: Despite skimping on shuteye Sunday through Thursday nights, they had no increased mortality risk compared to those who consistently got six to seven hours.

"It seems that weekday short sleep may be forgiven by weekend compensation," lead study author Torbjörn Åkerstedt, a professor of psychology at the Karolinska Institutet, told Health in an email. He said that it may be healthier, in the long run, to catch up on lost sleep over the weekend than to keep a shortened sleep schedule all seven days.

More studies have come out since then to support different benefits of sleeping in on the weekend. A February 2022 study published in Annals of Hepatology suggested that weekend catch-up sleep was associated with less non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A November 2021 study from the journal Sleep Medicine found that some catch-up sleep correlated with a lower risk of depression. An October 2020 study published in the journal Neurological Sciences said sleeping in on the weekend was associated with fewer metabolic issues.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that sleeping in is good for you. Although the studies showed that it may be better for you than consistent sleep deprivation, "may" is a key word here, as they couldn't definitively prove the effects. And one paper published in October 2019 in the journal Sleep said that catch-up sleep was associated with higher cardiovascular risk in older women (average age of 72 in the study).

Importantly, it also matters when you go to bed if you plan to sleep in. Sleeping in on the weekend with a consistent bedtime was shown to be better for your health than not sleeping in, in an October 2020 review published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

"Social jet lag," however, was shown to be worse for your health. The concept is a measure of how much a person's sleep is "shifted" forward or backward on the weekends. If you sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weeknights (midpoint 3 a.m.) and from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends (midpoint 6 a.m.), for example, that's a three-hour shift.

Experts Warned Sleeping In Isn't Healthy

Andrew Varga, MD, assistant professor of pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, said that the idea that extra weekend sleep might mitigate some long-term health risks is "a totally reasonable conclusion to draw." But he added that mortality risk is just one aspect of health, and that there are likely more immediate consequences of lost sleep that a weekend snooze-fest can't make up for.

"There's a fair amount of research showing other outcomes, particularly with cognition, and in these areas, it's not clear that you can really catch up so quickly," Dr. Varga said. Things like memory and concentration can be affected in as little as two or three days of short sleep, he added, so the weekend may be too late to make up for those effects.

There's also evidence, Dr. Varga said, that people with shifted sleep schedules—opposite of the body's natural circadian rhythm—are at higher risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes. But most research had been done in extreme cases, like shift workers who work overnight and sleep during the day, and not in people who simply sleep a few hours later on the weekends.

Consistency Is the Healthiest Option

Åkerstedt said his research suggested that making up for lost sleep on the weekends may be better than never making it up at all. But he agreed with other health experts who said that it's better to get enough sleep every night.

"Consistency is always key," Åkerstedt said, as long as it's consistently an intermediate sleep duration—not too much or too little. Getting too much sleep—more than eight or nine hours a night—has also been linked with poor health outcomes, including, in a May 2019 paper published in the European Heart Journal, an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and death.

Åkerstedt also agreed that sleeping in on weekends can make starting the workweek again even harder. "The problem with sleeping in is mainly the Blue Monday effect—that is, fatigue and poor performance," he said.

Of course, some people really are night owls and have trouble getting to sleep early enough during the week to get their seven to nine hours, Dr. Varga said. If you fall into that camp, he suggested talking to a sleep doctor about ways to adjust your internal body clock rather than trying to make it all up every weekend.

If you steal a few extra hours over the weekend—and doing so doesn't affect your ability to fall asleep Sunday night—it's probably not a big deal, Dr. Varga said. But pay attention to why you're sleeping in, he said: Is it because you're staying up late, and is that accompanied by drinking or eating more than you normally would?

"Sleep doctors are always going to recommend consistency," Dr. Varga said. "Try to keep the same bedtime, the same wakeup time, day in and day out, every day." Of course, life can get in the way—but at least be conscious of when (and why) your schedule is shifting, Dr. Varga said, and try not to make it a regular habit.

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