Sleeping in on Weekends May Extend Your Life

Learn how a new study shows that catching up on your sleep on the weekends can restore your weekly sleep quota.

By Andrea Pisani Babich

This just in: Researchers at Stockholm University have found that it’s OK to catch up on your sleep during the weekend. In fact, if your weekday schedule keeps you from sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours, sleeping in on the weekend can neutralize the adverse effects of sleep deprivation and reduce your risk of premature death, according to a new study published recently in the Journal of Sleep Research by Torbjörn Åkerstedt and his team of sleep experts.

For years we’ve read about the dangers of sleeping in on the weekend. Shifting circadian rhythms, Monday morning jet lag, and all-around crankiness at the beginning of every week are just some of the nasty consequences of trying to pay back your work-week sleep debt with sleeping overtime on the weekend. Especially for teenagers, who specialize in the sleep shell game, these warnings from sleep experts and parents alike fall on deaf ears (even when they’re not lost in the Land of Nod). But now there’s good news for sleep-deprived teens and adults who have an inviolable date with the Sandman Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Sleeping in on the weekend can pay back your sleep debt

The Stockholm study authors analyzed the self-reported sleeping habits of 38,000 Swedes for 13 years to arrive at their tentative conclusions. They found that participants younger than 65 who slept five hours or fewer every night experienced a 65% increased mortality rate compared with those who slept for about seven hours every night. But participants who were sleep deprived during the week and regularly tried to catch up on the weekends lived just as long as those who consistently slept the recommended amount. The study suggests that by sleeping at least nine hours each night of the weekend, you may help to undo the damage done by skimping on your shut-eye during the week.

As with most things, however, it’s possible to have too much of good thing. Just because sleeping nine, ten, even 12 hours on the weekend appears to be good for your health doesn’t mean you should regularly sleep that long. The study also showed that people who slept more than nine hours every night also faced an increased risk of death. Too much sleep was associated with high mortality almost as much as too little sleep. It seems there’s a sweet spot for sleep duration that hovers around seven hours. But if you can’t get your seven hours every night, a weekend catch-up can help your weekly sleep quota to average out.

Sleep experts like Åkerstedt readily admit they don’t fully understand what causes higher than average mortality rates among people who consistently sleep too few hours or sleep too long. He emphasized that his study simply highlighted the association between higher mortality rates and sleeping too much or too little.

Jet lag minus the jet

Before you get too excited about the prospect of sleeping 12 hours Saturday morning, consider the fact that not all the experts agree that the Stockholm University study indicates weekend catch-up sleep is effective. Another recent study directly contradicts the conclusions drawn from the Stockholm study and shows that “social jet lag” can be as detrimental to your health as sleep deprivation.

Social jet lag refers to the shift in your normal sleep schedule when you stay up late on the weekend and sleep later the next day. This study found that every hour of weekend sleep shifting was associated with an 11% increased risk of heart disease. Participants also reported increased fatigue and depression due to the jet lag created by pushing back their sleep times. The study’s authors concluded that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekend, is one of the most important components of good sleep hygiene.

And Michael Grandner, who heads the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, takes exception with using a banking metaphor to describe sleep habits. He likens sleeping in on the weekend to eating a salad after binging on hamburgers. The healthier alternative cannot undo the damage done by the unhealthy behavior.

Another reason to love the weekends

Most sleep specialists, including Åkerstedt and his colleagues, agree that more research is needed to study the reasons why sleep deprivation and excessive sleep are associated with higher mortality rates. But in the meantime, when your work week life interferes with your beauty sleep, catching some extra zzzs on the weekend can help you survive the crunch.

This is especially good news for teenagers whose school, activities schedules, and frequently delayed sleep onset muddy up their sleep hygiene beyond recognition. Add that to their increased need for sleep – around 8 to 10 hours – and you’ve got a recipe for:

  • Academic underachieving
  • Drowsy driving accidents
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Even adults who consistently push their sleep boundaries can earn back years to their lives and improve their performance, appearance, health, and well-being by turning the alarm off on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Turns out, what appears to be laziness might just be the best remedy for sleep deprivation and could just save a life.


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