Can Sleeping Longer On Weekends Make Up for Lack of Sleep During the Week?

Many of us aren’t sleeping as much as we should nowadays: we stay up late working night shifts or binge-watching tv shows, but are still forced to wake up early thanks to all our societal obligations. By the time the weekend rolls around, it can be very tempting to sleep-in and attempt to catch up on all those lost hours.

While shutting your eyes for a little extra time on Saturday and Sunday mornings feels good, it throws off the upcoming week. Sleeping in disrupts the balance between our sleep drive and circadian clock, which can result in disrupted sleep, causing crankiness, grogginess, and worse, possible depression.

People can try to make up for sleep missed on prior nights but it usually takes several nights of “make-up” sleep to reverse previous sleep debt.

The best way to avoid the ill effects of sleep loss is to get a good amount of sleep every night. Since that’s not always realistic, taking naps, sleeping in, and going to bed earlier will help balance your sleep debt.


Your brain on sleep debt

Sleep experts have long preached the importance of getting a full night’s sleep, which for most adults is somewhere between seven and nine hours a night. Studies show that when people consistently get less than six, it can negatively affect their health, including their metabolism and their cardiovascular system. Even temporary periods of short sleep can lead to impairments in mood and concentration levels.

In recent studies, experts have found that when people got less than six hours of sleep a night, they had trouble completing basic tasks: They had a fivefold increase in attention lapses and their reaction time nearly doubled compared to people who slept seven or more hours; even when they didn’t feel tired or realize that their performance was suffering.

To regulate your sleep schedule successfully, you need to understand two important sleep concepts – sleep drive and the internal circadian biological clock.


What is sleep drive?

Sleep drive is similar to the gas light on your car’s dashboard, it alerts your body when it needs to sleep. The longer you’re awake, the more your body needs sleep. Likewise, your need to sleep dissipates when you’re snoozing at night, filling up that gas tank so you’re ready for action the next morning. You wake up with a full tank and as you go through your day, your tank slowly empties until there’s nothing left and your body demands sleep. When you finally give into slumber, your tank gradually fills again, allowing you to wake up once again well rested.


Internal circadian biological clock

Your circadian clock regulates the timing of alertness and sleepiness throughout the day, rising and falling at different times. The strongest sleep drive (need for sleep) for adults usually occurs between the hours of 2 am to 4 am and during that afternoon rough sluggish patch, between 1 pm and 3 pm. The feeling of grogginess you experience during these times will feel less intense when you’ve had an adequate amount of sleep and is more powerful when you’re sleep deprived.


What’s the alternative?

The solution is to supercharge with a “power nap.” During your work week, napping can seem like an unobtainable gift from the sleep fairy. But if you can sneak one in, it’s a great way to replenish energy. Your body is naturally sleepy at this time so it will be easier to doze off.

On the weekends, try to eliminate the concept of sleeping in late. Wake up at your normal time and replace that snooze time with an afternoon nap. As with all things sleep, balance is essential.

Keep your afternoon snooze short and sweet, a half-hour or less. Longer naps can leave you tired and groggy upon awakening because after sleeping for 20 to 30 minutes, your body enters deeper sleep. And then it’s more difficult to get up from and immediately start activity (sleep inertia).


Does It Help to Sleep-In?

Sleeping in on weekends can reverse the impact of mild sleep deprivation over one work week. After six nights of reduced sleep, people experience significant daytime sleepiness and a decrease in attention levels as well as a rise in Interleukin-6, a marker of inflammation. After two days of extended recovery sleep on the weekend, sleepiness and IL-6 levels are returned to normal. The attention levels, however, remain diminished despite the extra slumber.

The take-home? Extra weekend sleep can make up for some of the negative effects associated with sleep loss, but it won’t affect your focus.

New research studies provide 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 found that those who consistently slept five hours or less were 65% more likely to die early than those who slept six to seven hours a night on average.

But those who reported short sleep during the week and long sleep on the weekends seemed protected: 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, and 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.


But other experts warn the practice still isn’t healthy

Catching up on sleep over the weekend doesn’t have to mean shifting your sleep midpoint: It could mean going to bed a little earlier and getting up a little later, rather than staying up super late and sleeping until noon.

The idea that extra weekend sleep might mitigate some long-term health risks is a totally reasonable conclusion to draw. But 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. Things like memory and concentration can be affected in as little as two or three days of short sleep so the weekend may be too late to make up for those effects.

There’s also evidence, 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 has been done in extreme cases, like night shift workers who work overnight and sleep during the day, and not in people who simply sleep a few hours later on the weekends.


Advice for avoiding sleep deprivation

1. Create a sleep sanctuary

Reserve it for sleep, intimacy, and other restful activities, like pleasure reading and meditation. Keep it on the cool side. Banish your television, computer, telephone and other diversions from that space.

2. Nosh on super meals

Foods high in antioxidants and protein, but low in processed sugars, fats and carbs can raise energy up and keep the sluggishness at bay. Focus on fish and green veggies at least one meal each day, supplementing with fruits and nuts for snacks. Begin your day with a low-cal, high protein breakfast. Also, avoid caffeine after noon, and go light on alcohol.

3. Limit work at home

Your brain needs a break from the stress which can keep you up at night while you’re trying to sleep. To help your brain relax and to get ready for sleep, try limiting the amount of work you bring home or make sure to stop work-related activities an hour before it’s time to hit the pillow.

4. Find the proper mattress.

A foam mattress is an effective tool to help you get to sleep faster and rest longer. It works by layering different types of memory foam to help you combat sleep deprivation and insomnia. For example, people who experience insomnia from sleeping hot can enjoy our open cell foam WHISPER mattress to help reduce heat. This promotes air circulation and is heat wicking for a cooler sleep.

5. Designate date nights or social nights.

While work is important and sleep is necessary, try to make fun a priority too. Dinner with friends, a movie date with your partner, putting these things in your calendar can help you to distress and wind down in the evenings.


For a mattress that helps you get sleep so good you won’t even need to sleep in on weekends, check out the WHISPER below. Try it risk-free with our 100-night trial!