Getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep does more than make you feel awful. It also negatively impacts your mental abilities and puts your physical health at real risk.
Those health risks include dying at a younger age. In other words, saying “I'll sleep when I'm dead,” may have you taking the big sleep sooner than you think.
So when you saw the barrage of headlines in the last week or so saying that sleeping in on the weekends can make up for sleeping too little during the week, you likely had one of two reactions:
- Great, another flip flop — I've heard for years that you can't make up for lost sleep.
- Great! This is what I already do, glad to hear it works!
Neither reaction is optimal, due to the real lesson here — never rely on headlines alone. Let's take a closer look.
First, here is a summary the findings:
People under the age of 65 who slept for five hours or less every night, all week, did not live as long as those who consistently slept seven hours a night. But weekend snoozers lived just as long as the well-slept. People who slept for fewer than the recommended seven hours each weekday, but caught an extra hour or two on weekends, lived just as long as people who always slept seven hours, the authors reported.
Next, the caveat:
Epidemiologists who spoke with The Washington Post described the result as a plausible finding, if not a statistically robust one, that deserves more investigation. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine, who was not involved with this work, warned that sleep is not like a financial transaction. We can't deposit zzzs over the weekend and expect to cash them out later.
Put another way:
A superior metaphor, [Grandner] said, is a diet. For the sleep-deprived, sleeping in on a weekend is like eating a salad after a series of hamburger dinners — healthier, sure, but from “one perspective the damage is done.”
And here's the damage spelled out:
[L]ack of sleep can change gene expression, or how the instructions in genes are read in your body. That’s something that you can’t “catch up” on over the weekend … And some research suggests that the cognitive declines caused by a lack of sleep won’t go away just because you catch a little more shut-eye for a couple days at a time.
So, if you're chronically sleep-deprived during the week, by all means, catch up on the weekends. But the best policy is to make sufficient sleep a priority every night, so you can get the most out of every day of a long, healthy life.
- Sleeping in on the Weekends Can Compensate for Lack of Sleep During the Week, Study Suggests
- Sleeping in on the Weekend Might be Good for You, But It's Not Going to Fix All Your Problems
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