May 22, 2018 3 min read

The term “social jetlag” is commonly used to describe the pattern many people follow of getting up early on weekdays and staying up late on the weekends to socialize and sleep in. For many of us it has become a habit to follow this pattern after a long, exhausting week filled with nights where we didn’t get enough sleep. But are we really doing our bodies and our health a favor or not by attempting to catch up on sleep over the weekend?

The truth is there are both advantages and disadvantages of sleeping in on the weekends. Past research tells us that sleeping in isn’t ideal since you can’t bank sleep or use it later for making up lost time.

Our bodies also like and work best following routine, it’s as simple as that. When we don’t follow a consistent sleep schedule due to skimping on sleep during the week and sleeping in on the weekends, we can become groggy and tired. This happens in part because our natural circadian rhythm is interfered with.

Even a single hour of “social jetlag” leads to poorer health and is associated with an 11 percent increase in the risk for heart disease according to researchers at the Sleep and Health Program at the University of Arizona.

Additionally, getting less than five or more than eight hours of sleep per night increases the risk of mortality. Knowing this, you might ask if there are any advantages of catching up on sleep on the weekends since missing out on it is so clearly bad.

Well, there might be. Although sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is most important for optimal health, recent research tells us that sleeping in occasionally might also be beneficial.

How Sleeping in Helps Counter Sleep Deprivation

Research published in the Journal of Sleep that assessed the sleeping habits of 43,000 people found that the average amount of sleep a person gets impacts his or her health. It’s better to catch up on missing sleep on the weekends than to not catch up at all since it reduces the average extent and severity of the effects of sleep deprivation,

Another study found that people who did not receive enough sleep on the weekdays but caught up on it over the weekend had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn’t catch up. It’s believed that getting the extra sleep helped to protect against disruption to hormone and metabolic cycles that influence changes in BMI. Experts also think that getting more sleep increases the chances that you’ll practice healthy habits like getting adequate exercise and following a healthy diet.

Yet another study completed by the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania found that getting an hour or two of extra sleep boosts brain power. Study participants who had extra sleep after a period of restricted sleep performed better on cognitive tests than those who never got a chance to catch up at all.

The bottom line is that it’s ideal to stay with a steady sleep schedule. But if you can’t, sleeping in on weekends is your next best bet to keeping your health in check. Experts recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal health.

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