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New Research Suggests That There's No Way to "Catch Up on" Lost Sleep

Staying up late during the week? Sleeping longer on weekends won't balance it out.

Associate Editor
eczema woman can't sleep
Photography by: Getty

If you have trouble getting a full night's sleep during the week, you're not alone: More than 70 million adults in America suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, according to the American Sleep Association. While many Americans will double—or even triple!—how much sleep they get when the weekend comes around, new research shows that trying to play catch up won't improve your health in the long run.

 

A team of researchers based at the University of Colorado Boulder released a study that found people who try to get more sleep on the weekends actually end up becoming less healthier than those who just aren't properly rested all week long. Current federal guidelines suggest that Americans get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and a growing body of research shows that sleep deprivation could influence much more than just your mood; a lack of sleep also impacts chronic illness and issues with metabolism.

 

This new study followed a small group of people for a short period of time, but it adds further evidence that sleep schedules can actively influence metabolic changes, and therefore issues like weight and cardiovascular health. "In modern society, most people get insufficient sleep during the standard work week and then they attempt to catch up or get more sleep on the weekend," Christopher Depner, Ph.D., a research professor in the sleep and chronobiology department at UC Boulder, told Consumer Reports. "It's a continual cycle."

 

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The study followed three different groups of people, and each group's food intake, weight, sleep quality, and metabolic features were recorded over the course of the study. A control group of eight participants slept nine hours each night, whereas another group of 14 people only slept for five hours each night.

 

But the study's main findings came from another group of 14 individuals who slept five hours each weeknight before being granted unlimited access to sleep over the weekend. Researchers found that this group ended up with nine hours of sleep per night over the weekend. In the end, this group, as well as the generally sleep-deprived bunch, gained weight over the course of the study.

 

Researchers also reported that individuals in both groups had developed insulin sensitivity, which alters how the body processes sugar and can lead to issues like diabetes over a longer period of time. "That was unexpected," Depner said. "We have a hint that there are potentially negative health consequences of this continuous cycling back and forth."

 

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The study also found that metabolism was greatly impacted for both groups, ultimately leading experts to strongly recommend instituting a proper bedtime routine. Researchers also said late-night snacking could add to the negative metabolic effects of poor sleep routines, so it's important to avoid post-dinner meals as well.

 

"A healthy diet is not only healthy foods, but also a healthy time to eat foods," Depner said. "If you know you're not getting enough sleep, you should avoid food intake late at night…Getting enough sleep and on a consistent schedule is, I would say, at least as important as physical activity and nutrition."