According to some recent research, getting yourself more sleep during the weekend might help to ease the health problems associated with not getting enough sleep during the week, and could even reduce the risk of an early death.
The study, which looked at more than 38,000 adults, revealed a higher mortality rate among young and middle-aged adults who slept less than five hours a night – but when it came to those who caught up with that lack of sleep during the week over the weekend, the mortality rate difference disappeared.
This is a long way from proving that extra sleep on the weekend can counter the hit our bodies take by not getting enough rest during the week, but one of the team, Torbjorn Akerstedt from Stockholm University in Sweden, says it opens up a number of interesting possibilities.
While there have been plenty of studies that look at the relationship between sleep and our health, the different balance between weekday and weekend sleep isn’t usually taken into account, which is where the researchers behind the new study wanted to focus.
The researchers used self-reported data in which the participants listed the sleep that they got during working days and days off, which for the sake of clarity and simplicity was referred to as “weekdays” and “weekends.” They also used statistical models to factor out influences such as gender, physical activity, alcohol consumption, body mass index, and whether or not someone was a smoker.
The study found that the light sleepers in the sample aged under 65 – those who slept fewer than five hours a night in the week and during the weekend – had a 65% higher mortality rate than the reference group who got six to seven hours a night. These results are based on death records over the course of 13 years, but it’s important to note that sleep behavior was only measured once at the start of that period.
However, the mortality rate of those with short sleep during the week, but medium to long sleep over the weekend, didn’t differ from the reference group rate. This shift in mortality rates also disappeared for people over the age of 65 – maybe because they’re more likely to be able to get the sleep they need. In that older bracket, no link was shown between sleep duration and mortality.
Another interesting finding was that those who slept for more than nine hours a night also had a higher mortality rate than the reference group. This could be due to the fact that more time in bed relates to other underlying health issues.
With its reasonably sized sample and a sharp difference in early death rates for those who don’t catch up on their sleep, this research is worth taking note of.
However, as previously mentioned, this research didn’t track sleeping changes over time, and might not be a representative of the population at large – fewer of the participants were smokers than you’d usually expect – possibly because the original surveys were carried out at a cancer charity event.
Experts have declared that the study is a useful one, but that more research is needed before we can fully know whether weekend sleep can make up for a weekday deficit.
Michael Grander from the University of Arizona, who wasn’t part of this particular study, warned against relying on the weekend to recover lost sleep. He said that it could be like eating a salad after eating a couple of hamburgers – definitely healthier, but it’s not able to reverse all the negative effects.
As ever, the best advice is to find out how much sleep you need and stick to it. If you’re running low on sleep though, it might just be possible to use your days off to redress the balance.