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Forget the Alarm: Don’t Feel Guilty about Those Lazy Weekends

Science says sleeping in on the weekend may help you live longer—especially if you don’t get enough rest during the week.

We’re wrapping up Better Sleep Month with a look at a bit of “catch up” sleep could be a major boost to your health.

Scientists have long known about the connection between how much you sleep and how long you live. Lack of sleep can have dire consequences for your health: It can give you heart problems or hurt your waistline and it can leave you anxious and depressed. But channeling your inner cat and sleeping too much can be just as bad for your health, studies have found.

According to researchers in Sweden and the U.S, those under the age of 65 who get less than five hours sleep on the weekend had an increased risk of death. The study was based on data from more than 30,000 subjects who were followed over a 13-year period and published this month in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Why a Long Weekend Snooze is Beneficial

For those who only manage to get less than five hours of shut eye throughout the week, but then have a longer snooze on the weekends, there was no heightened mortality risk. There’s a higher mortality risk however if a person is consistently getting short (less than five hours) or long (more than nine hours) sleep, compared to people who are consistently sleeping around six to seven hours sleep throughout the week.

Researchers came to these findings after taking into account factors which affect mortality: Gender, education, body mass index, severe disease, use of hypnotics (like sleeping pills), plus aspects like smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, coffee intake, and employment status.

Torbjörn Åkerstedt, an author of the study and a clinical neuroscience professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, said the findings are consistent with previous research into sleep duration’s link to mortality.

However, these previous studies focused on weekday sleep, and he said the team “suspected that may not be enough.” The investigation into weekend sleep suggests that getting a long one could help prevent an early death. “The results imply that short (weekday) sleep is not a risk factor for mortality if it’s combined with a medium or long weekend sleep,” the authors wrote.

“This suggests that short weekday sleep may be compensated for during the weekend, and that this has implications for mortality,” concluded Åkerstedt.

For people over the age of 65, no link between sleep duration and a heightened risk of death was established. Åkerstedt said it’s probably because older people get the sleep they need. “They sleep as much during weekdays as during weekends whereas the difference is huge in lower age groups,” he explained.

Decoding the Study

It would appear changing sleeping habits on the weekend is a way to make up for sleep lost during the week. Sleep expert Michael Grandner from the Perelman School of Medicine explains it this way: Most people who are considered “short sleepers” are probably just shy of getting seven hours of sleep—they might sleep six hours or slightly less. They’re the ones who can compensate with longer rest on the weekends because there’s not as much of a deficit.

Sleep is something you need to replenish regularly if you don’t want to hurt your health. “It’s a fundamental part of our biology, like breathing. It’s a requirement,” said Grandner. “If you’re well-rested, your sleep drive will be low in the morning and it builds and builds over the day, when at night you need to go to bed to relieve that pressure for sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you wake up with that sleep pressure and start the day with a higher need for it.

He compared sleep to diet, saying it wouldn’t make a difference to your overall health if you splurge on the weekend if you’ve eaten a healthy diet all week. If you’re eating fatty, fried foods every day of the week, there’s no amount of lettuce and quinoa you can eat to reverse that type of damage.

Why Sleep is So Important

The Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests these six reasons to get better sleep:

  • Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  • Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

As you’ve discovered this month, so many aspects of our lives depend on our quality of sleep. Do your best to get the suggested hours of sleep per night and you will improve your health and live a better life.

For more information on sleep issues or to schedule an appointment to discuss any concerns you may have, contact Dr. David B. Maybee and his staff at the CCHC Sleep Lab at (252) 634-2240.

(Sources: Journal of Sleep Research; Harvard Women’s Health Watch; American Psychological Association; Perelman School of Medicine; Mashable; and CNN.)