Can You Catch Up on Sleep? Science Debunks a Popular Myth

Snoozing on Saturday is no longer the cure-all.

People are finally starting to understand how important sleep is to being a happy, healthy, and functioning human being. Sleep deprivation, even after a single night, can have pretty serious mental and physical effects on the body. A sustained lack of sleep can lead to increased weight, greater risk of a heart attack or stroke, higher blood pressure, and higher blood sugar, to name a few.

But a recent study shows that a couple days of sleep catch-up — widely believed to negate these health risks — doesn’t actually do anything to pay back your sleep debt. Catching up on sleep is largely a myth, especially when you revert back to bad sleeping habits by Monday.

The Current Biology study, conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder, provides evidence suggesting there are a fair number of biological and metabolic consequences to only getting five hours of sleep a night. These include weight gain, insulin insensitivity, disrupted circadian rhythm, and increased caloric intake after dinner. Even after getting a healthy amount of bonus sleep over the weekend, these health factors didn’t go away, nor did it prevent them from recurring the following week.

Can you actually pay off your sleep debt?


The participants who were able to sleep extra hours during the weekend did momentarily recover in some areas — for example, slight decreases in both after-dinner energy intake and body weight. However, as soon as they went back to insufficient sleep patterns following the weekend, these health factors again increased.

So while you might feel better by Sunday, those two nights of sleep catch-up aren’t actually doing your body any favors. The metabolic derangements that occur are not slowed down by a restful weekend, the study found. Your circadian rhythm still gets thrown out of whack, your body becomes insulin insensitive, and participants were even shown to eat 500 additional calories after dinner compared to those who were getting a good night’s sleep. That’s a lot of meatballs.

The only way to really prevent these risks is to get a healthy amount of sleep every night, even on a Tuesday. Sleep isn’t for the weekend. It’s for tonight.

Now watch this: A Neuroscientists Explains What Happens to Your Brain on Sleep Deprivation

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