The Serious Downside to Sleeping in on Weekends

It's tempting to use the weekend as a way to catch up on lost sleep during the work week, but is it the healthiest thing to do?

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Turning off the alarm and snoozing a few extra hours on a Saturday morning may seem like a good idea, but a recent study says you are actually doing yourself more harm than good by catching up on that extra sleep during the weekend.

This sounds counterintuitive because insufficient sleep is connected to a host of health consequences, including metabolic issues, anxiety disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even strokes. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep is also important to the health of your brain. Shouldn’t we get more sleep when we can? Evidently not.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder solicited healthy young adults to participate in an extensive sleep study, recently published in Current Biology, consisting of three groups. The first group had nine hours to sleep each night of the nine-night study. The second group was only allowed five hours each night of the study, and the third group slept five hours for five nights but were allowed to sleep as much as they wanted for the following two nights on the weekend, followed by another two nights of just five hours of sleep.

In both groups where participants got insufficient sleep, they were more likely to increase snacking after dinner, and all of them gained weight during the nine-day experiment. The group who had insufficient sleep during the week, but slept in on the weekend, did not snack on the days they slept in. However, when the weekend recovery group went back to getting insufficient sleep after the weekend, their circadian body clock was timed later. They ate even more after dinner and they experienced even more weight gain.

Additional snacking isn’t the only reason people who have odd sleep schedules gain weight. There are a whole host of factors including the amount of time you actually need to sleep if you’re hoping to lose weight, as well as sleep’s effect on your body’s insulin production.

Not only are the extra hours of sleep you might gain from hitting snooze on the weekends not enough to mitigate or even reduce the risks associated with a lack of sleep, but abruptly adjusting your “circadian rhythm” or sleep cycle is associated with its own series of health risks.

“Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep,” said Christopher Depner, one of the lead researchers, in a press release for the study. “This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely [to be] an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic.”

Loss of circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle, is also associated with future sleep loss and an increased risk of developing obesity or cardiovascular disease, according to experts.

A better way to catch up on lost sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends taking 20- to 30-minute nap on weekend afternoons, using one of these 11 tricks for taking a nap that will energize you for the best results.

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Isabel Roy has been a writer and editor for RD.com since February of 2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing and Rhetoric. She is thrilled to be living and working in the Big Apple although she misses the easy access to freshly made Wisconsin cheese curds and Kopps Custard. When not at the Reader’s Digest office, you can find her downing too many chai lattes and rereading her favorite Harry Potter books.