Can weekend sleep repay your weeknight sleep debt?
Monday to Friday, you wake up early for work and stay up late to enjoy social engagements – or finish your chores. By the end of the week, all you want to do is sleep in. Late. You snooze a few extra hours on Saturday morning to stay out late that night, head to bed early on Sunday and start the sleep cycle all over.
Or should we say lack of sleep cycle? There’s nothing wrong with making up sleep time on the weekends, is there? To regulate your sleep schedule successfully, you need to understand two important sleep concepts – sleep drive and internal circadian biological clocks.
What does “sleep drive” mean?
Sleep drive is similar to the gas light on your car’s dashboard – it alerts your body when it needs to sleep. The longer you’re awake, the more your body needs sleep. Likewise, your need to sleep dissipates when you’re snoozing at night, filling up that gas tank so you’re ready for action the next morning.
In the morning, we should be waking up with a full tank and as we go through our days, our tanks slowly empty until there’s nothing left and we need more sleep again. When we finally give into slumber, our tanks gradually fills again, allowing us to wake up well rested with an full tank once again.
What does “internal circadian biological clock” mean?
Your circadian clock regulates the timing of alertness and sleepiness throughout the day, rising and falling at different times. The strongest sleep drive (need for sleep) for adults usually occurs between the hours of 2 am to 4 am and during that afternoon rough sluggish patch, between 1 pm and 3 pm. The feeling of grogginess you experience during these times will feel less intense when you’ve had an adequate amount of sleep, and more powerful when you’re sleep deprived.
As easy as Sunday morning… late Sunday morning
After a week of early mornings and late nights, our natural reaction is to crave more sleep on the weekends. While extra shut eye on Saturday and Sunday mornings feel good (and a happy habit we’ve held onto since our teenager years), it can potentially throw a wrench into both your sleep drive and circadian rhythm for the upcoming week. Sleeping in late disrupts the balance between our sleep drive and circadian clock, which can result in disrupted sleep, causing crankiness, grogginess and worse, possible depression. Yikes.
And if your social calendar is full on the weekends, there’s even more to worry about. Going to bed early on Sunday makes sense right? Unfortunately, this probably won’t work. Staying up late and sleeping in through the weekend, combined with thoughts of a stressful upcoming week can cause “sleep onset insomnia.” With your sleep drive and circadian clock thrown off, your body is simply not ready to sleep.
Sleep experts debate whether you can make up for a week of sleep deprivation on the weekend…
It seems that the experts can’t seem to make up their minds on this. On one hand, we’re told to stick to a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at and rise at the same time every day. That seemed like sound, straightforward advice. Then along came a Swedish study that has muddied the waters and cast some doubt on a strict sleep routine.
In a study published by the Journal of Sleep in May 2018, researchers from the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University tracked more than 38,000 people. Over the course of 13 years, they studied their weekend versus weekday sleeping habits.
Many previous sleep studies asked participants to chart their hours of sleep over a period of time, without taking into account differences between workday or weekend. And the conclusion was grim. People under the age of 65 who slept less than 5 hours or less every night, all week long, failed to live as long as sleepers who slept 7 hours a night consistently. But the Swedish study found this was not the case when short-changed snoozers caught up on their sleep with an extra hour or two on weekends. They lived just as long as those habitual 7-hour sleepers.
Some sleep experts are uncertain about the conclusions though. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine is one doubter. He said that sleep is not like financial transaction where you can deposit sleep over the weekend and cash in on it later.
Beyond expert opinion, there’s a pile of research that backs up the merits of consistency and sticking to a sleep routine. Studies show that people suffering from chronic insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder.
Naps, siestas, quick snoozes – oh my!
What’s the alternative? Walking around like sleepless zombies? Of course not. One solution (that we wish was the solution to every problem) is to supercharge with a power nap!
During the work week, napping can seem like an unobtainable gift from the sleep fairy. But if you can sneak one in, it’s a great way replenish energy. On the weekends try to eliminate the concept of sleeping in late, wake up at your normal time and replace that snooze time with an afternoon nap. As with all things sleep, balance is essential. Without causing a disruption in your natural pattern, there are 3 optimal nap times; 20 min, 60 min and 90 min naps.
Learning how to balance work, life AND sleep
Struggling to balance your sleep during the week and on the weekends? Feel free to steal these tips help you enjoy your life, get your work done AND optimize your sleep.
- Nosh on super meals. Foods high in antioxidants and protein, but low in processed sugars, fats and carbs can ratchet energy up and keep the sluggishness at bay. Focus on incorporating fish and green veggies into your meals, supplementing with fruits and nuts for snacks. Begin your day with a low-cal, high protein breakfast.
- Exercise to keep active. Regular workouts can give you more energy throughout the day and regulate your body’s energy reserve expenditures. Going for a walk or short hike can help keep your energy levels up and give you time clear your head. Maybe go with a partner or a friend to catch up and chat.
- Limit work at home. Your brain needs a break from the stress, which can keep you up at night while you’re trying to sleep. To help your brain relax and get ready for sleep, try limiting the amount of work you bring home – or make sure to stop work related activities an hour before it’s time to hit the pillow.
- Designate date nights or social even nights. While work is important and sleep is necessary, try to make fun a priority too. Dinner with friends, a movie date with your partner, putting these things in your calendar can help you to de-stress before bedtime.
- Prioritize chores and errands. Try not to stress about doing the dishes, sleep is more important. Figure out which chores and errands are most important to you and which ones you wouldn’t mind doing less often. Think about what you can eliminate, such as having your laundry done at the cleaners or pre-ordering your groceries online.
- Plan for “Me” time. Taking time for yourself may be easier to do on the weekends, so think about waking up at your normal time and tackling one of your hobbies or favorite activities. Perhaps you can sneak a nap in afterward.
- Shut off distractions. The longer you engage your brain in activities such as emails and the internet, the longer it takes for you to relax into a sleep state and enjoy a restful night’s sleep. By turning off your phone and email an hour to 30 minutes before bed, you allow your body and brain to naturally slowdown in the evening as it prepares itself for sleep. Try this sleep playlist to help you wind down before bed.
Though we know you want to sleep late on the weekends, do so cautiously. Take a short nap, if you feel the need to top up your sleep. During weeknights, longstanding expert advice still rules:
- Aim for 7 good hours of sleep each night
- Stick to a wind-down bedtime routine
- Be as loyal to your bedtime as you are to your morning alarm
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- The anatomy of an ideal bedroom
- How does the color of noise affect your sleep?
- Get planting – 5 health benefits of trees you need to know