We know that getting enough good quality sleep is pivotal to living our best life. And, we know that adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day, with children and teenagers requiring even more. So, what happens to our body when we don’t get the sleep we require? These lost sleep hours are known as sleep debt, and this debt accumulates, growing each and every time we reduce our nightly sleep. No problem, we think, we’ll make up for our lost sleep on the weekend! Turns out it’s not that simple. New research shows that sleeping in on weekends cannot reverse the damage caused by a lack of sleep, and researchers are warning that our weekend lie-ins should not be used to catch up on sleep missed during the week.
What Is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt can be described as the difference between the number of hours your body requires to function effectively and the number of hours sleep you are actually getting. According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), one third of American adults are not meeting the recommended sleep threshold, which according to the CDC is a minimum of 7-hours per night.
We need to understand that it’s not only our general health that suffers from accumulating a sleep debt: there are other negative effects like impaired judgement, lack of concentration, irritability, and even long-term effects such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. It’s also important to understand that people who suffer from sleep debt typically don’t realize just how tired they are, simply because they don’t recall what being well-rested feels like.
Why Do so Many People Suffer from Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation can occur because of a sleep disorder, like sleep apnoea, but it typically occurs because of our extremely hectic lives. People are working longer hours and taking on more commitments, resulting in a stressful life. Researchers are pointing out that there is now a very strong link between insufficient sleep on a nightly basis and the development of certain metabolic conditions, like cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity.
Study Report from the ‘Journal of Sleep Research’
Last year we saw a study featured in the Journal of Sleep Research suggesting that we could, in fact, repay our sleep debt by sleeping extra hours on the weekend, and that this could be a helpful practice in maintaining good health.
Study Report from ‘Current Biology’
However, the findings of a new study recently appeared in Current Biology, and this research contradicts the Journal of Sleep Research findings. The take-away from this new research clearly shows that sleeping in on the weekend in order to catch up on lost sleep cannot reverse damage caused by sleep loss during the week.
In order to prove their results, 36 healthy, young, adult participants were recruited by the researchers. These participants were then randomly divided into three groups, as follows –
- The first group of adults would sleep for 5-hours each and every night, including the weekend;
- The second group of adults would sleep for 5-hours each night during the week, then enjoy unrestricted sleep time at the weekend, followed by two more nights of 5-hours sleep;
- The third group of adults was the control group, and this group could enjoy 9-hours sleep every night on both weeknights and on the weekend.
‘Current Biology’ Study Results
The study results were interesting, in that all participants who had restricted sleep during the week started after-dinner snacking, which ultimately led to weight gain. The participants who were allowed to enjoy a weekend sleep-in consumed fewer calories with their after-dinner snacking than those participants who carried on with their restricted sleep program. However, participants who slept in on weekends then returned to restricted sleep hours during the week, continued experiencing impairment of their body clock. The after-dinner snacking habit continued and they continued putting on weight.
What the ‘Current Biology’ Researchers Found
The researchers noticed that, when it came to specific metabolic changes, the study participants with restricted sleep hours every night had reduced insulin sensitivity with a decrease of around 13%. Typically, a marker of good health is high insulin sensitivity, whereas low sensitivity can indicate diabetes. The researchers were not particularly surprised by the decrease in insulin sensitivity in the restricted sleep group; however, they were surprised that the results of study participants who used the weekend to catch up on missed sleep were not much better. Despite their enjoyable sleep-in on the weekend, these participants still had reduced insulin sensitivity. Then, during the week when they again experienced sleep loss, their insulin sensitivity, specifically in the liver and the muscles, reduced dramatically by between 9% and 27%.
Other than tiredness, short-term negative effects of sleep debt might include memory problems, impaired driving, foggy brain, and reduced vision; while long-term negative effects might include insulin resistance, obesity, and heart disease.
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