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Can You Make Up for Lost Sleep on the Weekends?

Trying to make up for lost sleep on the weekends? Science says it doesn't really work like that.

You might think that staying up too late on weeknights isn't a big deal since you can recoup those lost hours of sleep on the weekend. However, new research suggests that sleeping a little extra on the weekends really doesn't do too much for you.

The new study took a group of otherwise healthy young adults and limited their weekday sleep to just five hours a night. The study participants were then able to sleep as much as they wanted on the weekends. On average, the participants didn't get nearly enough extra sleep on the weekends to make up for lost sleep through the workweek. They also experienced common side effects of sleep deprivation, such as weight gain and increased risks of developing diabetes.

"If there are benefits of catch-up sleep, they're gone when you go back to your routine. It's very short-lived," Kenneth Wright - Director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder and co-author of the study - told The Washington Post.

Now, that's not to say sleeping in on the weekends does nothing at all. If you experience only a single week of insufficient sleep, you can probably bounce back from that after a bit of weekend catch-up sleep. But, if your sleep deprivation patterns continue for subsequent weeks the effects will begin to compound and a little bit of weekend recovery sleep just won't be enough to right things.

"These health effects are long-term," said Wright. "It's kind of like smoking once was—people would smoke and wouldn't see an immediate effect on their health, but people will say now that smoking is not a healthy lifestyle choice. I think sleep is in the early phase of where smoking used to be."

Another expert thinks sleep deprivation is also comparable to unhealthy eating habits. Eating nothing but salad on the weekend won't make up for binging on fast food throughout the week. Both healthy diets and healthy sleep patterns require consistency, according to Michael Grandner - Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine - and who was not involved in the study. 

"When you're talking about something as complex as metabolism, it's very much about balance and equilibrium, and when you're chasing numbers of hours and you're trying to make them all add up, that's not about balance," Grandner said.

Wright says that his study shows people need to make good sleeping habits a daily priority and can't just make up for lost sleep all at once. So for the sake of your health, maybe cut the Wednesday night Netflix binge and hit the pillow a little bit earlier this week.


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