In our sleep-deprived society, many of us burn the midnight oil all week long because we believe that we can make up the difference by getting a little extra sleep on the weekend when by sleeping in.  Unfortunately, the most recent research in this area isn’t on our side.  In fact, studies show that sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday doesn’t really help alleviate your sleep debt and can actually leave you more tired come Monday morning.  There are several reasons sleeping in doesn’t seem to help us catch up on our sleep.


1.     Circadian Rhythm

One reason sleeping in on the weekend can leave us struggling for sleep and waking up tired is that it disrupts our internal clock.  This clock is ruled by our circadian rhythm which can be bumped by hours when you sleep later on some mornings than you do on others.  Let’s look at an example.  This week you have a ton of work to do and you end up staying up late every night to get it all done.  By Friday, you are exhausted and so you cancel any Saturday morning plans so that you can sleep in.  You sleep in an extra 3 hours.  This messes with your circadian rhythm and can make it difficult to get to sleep on time on Sunday night which means you will wake up already tired on Monday morning.


2.     Sleep Debt

Another reason sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t really help make up for the sleep we missed has to do with our accumulated sleep debt.  Let’s look at our sleep as if it were a bank account.  Like a bank account, we always want to have a positive balance when it comes to sleep.  When we consistently get less sleep than we need however, the balance in our sleep bank can dip resulting in sleep debt.  So, in our example above, we stayed up an extra 3 hours each night this week for a total of 15 hours of lost sleep.  Then we sleep in for 3 hours on Saturday.  While we aren’t as far in debt as we were, we are still carrying a negative balance which means we will still be sleepy even after sleeping in.


3.     Slow Down

New research shows that chronic sleep loss takes more than a Saturday morning to fix.  In addition, even those who feel less sleepy when they wake up from a couple extra hours of sleep only have a short time before the effects of their sleep deprivation kick back in.  Over time, this effect only seems to worsen.  All the worst effects of chronic sleep deprivation are present including slowed reaction times, problems regulating emotions, increased irritability, and decreases in cognitive function.  People experiencing this may feel like they are caught up on their sleep because they sleep in a couple hours and felt refreshed upon waking.  They are also unlikely to notice when those negative effects begin to creep back in later in the day.

The key message is that catching up on sleep by sleeping in is not very effective, especially when you are dealing with chronic sleep deprivation.  You are much better off getting the sleep you need each and every night and you are likely to be more productive when you do.  This may mean that you don’t need all those sleepless nights staying up in order to get your work done this week; what you really need is a good nights sleep.


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