Ah, the weekend. Many of us who work long hours during the week may see the weekend as an opportunity to "catch up" on some rest by sleeping in. But is it really possible to recover from sleep loss by finding time later to snooze, and does it do the mind and body any good?
For starters, a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that using your weekend to sleep in actually doesn't fix all the damage caused by missing out on some slumber during the week.
"The major take away message is that extended sleep helps, but only to some extent," study co-author Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, professor at Penn State University's Hershey Sleep Research & Treatment Center, told The Huffington Post in an email. "The repeated cycle of restriction/recovery may be harmful to your health in the long run."
In this study, researchers put 30 healthy adults on a 13-day sleep schedule that included four nights of a normal eight-hour snooze fest, followed by six nights of waking up two hours earlier, then three nights of sleeping for a whopping 10 hours. That way, the six nights simulated sleep loss, and the last three nights simulated "recovery" sleep.
During these sleep sessions, the researchers monitored brain waves, administered tests to track alertness, and kept tabs on inflammatory and stress hormone levels by taking blood samples. What was found?
After five days of losing sleep, most of the men and women were drowsy and their performance on attention tests deteriorated. They also showed increased levels of interleukin-6 in their blood, which is an inflammation agent in the body. Not good.
But after two days of "recovery" sleep, interleukin-6 levels lowered and even performance on some of the tests that measure sleepiness improved. Yet, across the group, overall performance on the attention test did not improve.
"The long-term effects of a repeated sleep restriction/sleep recovery weekly cycle in humans remains unknown," the researchers wrote in their study.
A similar sleep study conducted at the University of Surrey in England along with the BBC had similar results, revealing that when people cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. Then the study showed the reverse happened when people added just one hour of sleep, BBC News reported.
"We found that overall there were around 500 genes that were affected," study co-author Dr. Simon Archer, professor of chronobiology at the university, told BBC.
On the flip side, when it comes to a weekend snooze, too much sleep isn't necessarily a good thing either. A new study conducted by the CDC has linked sleeping an average of 10 or more hours a day with chronic diseases like diabetes, anxiety, and obesity among adults.
“It’s critical that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to receive the health benefits of sleep, but this is especially true for those battling a chronic condition,” Dr. M. Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said in a written statement.
Sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School note that keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—not only maintains the timing of the body's internal clock but may also help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.
When we don't get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to "pay back" if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
But it might be okay to "pay back" every once in a while.
"We do recommend recovery sleep either in the form of extended sleep or napping after a night of sleep deprivation," Dr. Vgontzas told The Huffington Post.
Also on HuffPost:
Myth: Everyone Needs Eight Hours Of Sleep A Night
<strong>Fact: </strong>What works for you might not work for your neighbor. "A person's sleep need is genetically pre-determined," says Michael Decker, Ph.D., associated professor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Some people need a little bit more, and some need a little bit less." So how do you know how much you need? One tell-tale sign you're not getting enough is falling asleep as soon as you get into bed, says Robert Oexman, D.C., director of the <a href="http://www.sleeptolive.com/" target="_blank">Sleep to Live Institute</a>. "It's very common that people tell me, 'I'm a great sleeper, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow,'" he says. "That's a sign that you're probably not getting enough sleep." Drifting off should take around 15 minutes if you're regularly fulfilling your sleep needs, he says. And if you wake up feeling refreshed and energetic? You're doing something right, says Decker. However, the people who say they're fine with just six hours of sleep a night are likely setting themselves up for future problems. Research suggests that consistently sleeping fewer than six hours a night can increase stroke and diabetes risk, damage bones and hurt the heart, among other <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/scary-sleep-deprivation-effects_n_2807026.html" target="_blank">scary side effects</a>.
Myth: If You Can Get It, More Sleep Is Always Better
<strong>Fact:</strong> There is such a thing as <em>too much</em> sleep, believe it or not. Just like people who regularly sleep fewer than six hours a night, people who consistently clock more than nine or 10 hours a night also face a number of health problems, says Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., an instructor of psychiatry and a member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania. We don't quite know yet if too much sleep is the proverbial chicken or the egg, he says, but we do know there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Myth: You Can Make Up For Lost Sleep By Sleeping In On The Weekends
<strong>Fact:</strong> If you're grouchy and crabby from skimping on sleep all week, and then sleep a couple extra hours Saturday morning, you'll find the short-term effects of sleep deprivation vanish pretty quickly, says Grandner. But the long-term impact is still likely dangerous. "The problem [with counting on catching up on sleep] is thinking there's <em>not</em> a consequence of not getting enough sleep all week," says Oexman. "There are consequences of even one night of not getting enough sleep." Plus, if you sleep in <em>too</em> late on the weekends, you're setting yourself up for trouble falling asleep Sunday night. Then, when the alarm goes off Monday morning, you'll find yourself starting the cycle all over again, says Oexman.
Myth: If You Can't Sleep, Just Rest In Bed
<strong>Fact:</strong> Turns out, lying there staring at the clock hoping sleep will come is one of the <em>worst</em> things you can do, the experts say. "Lying in bed and ruminating about why we're not sleeping can increase anxiety and make it harder to fall asleep," says Decker. If you stew there long enough, you may teach your brain to associate lying in bed with being awake, says Oexman. Instead, get out of bed and do something else for a while to help you wind down. The change of environment can help you avoid a stressful association with your bedroom, as long as it's nothing too exciting and away from any bright light. Half an hour later, try getting back into bed, says Grandner.
Myth: Watching TV Is A Good Way To Relax Before Bed
<strong>Fact: </strong>"There's a difference between relaxation and distraction," says Grandner. When you relax, your breathing and heart rate slow down, your muscles release, your thoughts grow calmer -- and none of that happens when you're watching TV. "TV at night is not there to help you sleep, it is there to sell you stuff," he says. Not to mention that the blue light emitted from the TV tricks your brain into thinking it's time to be awake and alert. Experts agree that you should power down all electronic devices at least an hour before bed. Reading a book (that isn't too exciting) can help you relax, but sleep docs are quick to point it has to be the real thing. iPads and other backlit electronic readers emit the same kind of stimulating light as your TV.
Myth: Snoring Is Annoying, But Mostly Harmless
<strong>Fact:</strong> While certainly a nuisance to your bedmate, snoring can be more dangerous to your health than you might know. The vibrations of the soft tissue of your airways that leads to that log-sawing sound can cause swelling overtime. As the swelling further narrows your airways, it becomes increasingly difficult for enough oxygen to pass through, says Oexman. When it's not getting enough oxygen, the brain will trigger snorers to wake up, says Grandner. Most people who snore or have sleep apnea almost immediately fall back to sleep, but some experts hypothesize that the constantly cycling between alert and asleep causes a great deal of stress in the body, particularly to the heart, says Grandner. This could explain why <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/snoring-health-risk_b_2743494.html" target="_blank">both snoring and sleep apnea have been linked to increased heart risks</a>.
Myth: Alcohol Will Help You Sleep
<strong>Fact:</strong> It might help you doze off, but it becomes seriously detrimental to the quality of your shut-eye later on in the night. It's a much more complicated relationship than just "alcohol makes you pass out," says Grandner. As your body processes the alcohol, it can begin to act as a stimulant, leading to more shallow and less restful sleep later in the night. Drinkers may also be more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. "Alcohol is very disruptive to sleep continuity and leads to fragmented sleep and poor sleep quality," says Decker. "Drink now, pay later."
Myth: An Afternoon Coffee Won't Affect Your Sleep
<strong>Fact:</strong> Caffeine has a surprisingly-long half life, meaning there's still about half of the original amount of caffeine you ingested in your blood about <em>12 hours later</em>, says Oexman. Caffeine isn't always the most obvious of sleep-stealers, however. "In most cases when it comes time to sleep, you just don't quite feel ready for it," says Grandner. "You're not feeling the caffeine jitters, you're just less able to wind down, even if you don't realize that it could be a culprit." Even lunchtime caffeine could cause trouble if you're particularly sensitive to caffeine, but definitely steer clear of any after-dinner coffee or tea.
Myth: Your Bedroom Should Be Warm And Cozy
<strong>Fact:</strong> Even though we totally understand the urge to cuddle up under loads of blankets, a cooler environment is more conducive to good sleep. Because there are specific changes in core body temperature as we prepare for sleep, anything that raises your internal temp can make sleep more difficult, says Grandner. Some people would rather save on electricity and turn the AC off at night, but if you find yourself struggling to sleep as the weather warms up, try keeping a fan running at least, he suggests. In most cases, says Oexman, having your head exposed to some cool air will counteract the effects of too many blankets, but for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/sleep-compatibility-_n_1274860.html" target="_blank">bedmates with opposite temperature needs</a>, he suggests sleeping with two sets of sheets and blankets, even if you're in the same bed.
Myth: Taking A Nap Will Mess With Your Sleep At Night
<strong>Fact:</strong> When timed right, it shouldn't! In fact, there's substantial research that shows <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/11/nap-benefits-national-napping-day_n_2830952.html" target="_blank">nappers have improved memory</a>, alertness and performance after a short siesta. Make sure you're not napping too close to bedtime, and cut it to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/how-to-nap-at-work_n_1232352.html" target="_blank">30 minutes or less</a>, otherwise you risk drifting into deeper sleep and feeling groggier when you wake up. A word of caution for people who have difficulty sleeping: If you already find it hard to fall asleep, wake up multiple times throughout the night or wake up too early, it's probably wise to skip the nap, says Oexman.
Myth: Exercising At Night Will Keep You Awake
<strong>Fact: </strong>Not necessarily. This thinking probably stems from studies of people doing much more intense exercise much closer to bedtime than most of us really do, says Grandner. If you have no other time than at night to hit the gym, don't skip the workout, just make sure it isn't <em>too</em> rigorous and that you allow yourself ample time to cool off before jumping into bed, says Grandner. However, if you already have trouble falling asleep at night, the boost to our core body temperature caused by exercise could add fuel to the fire, says Oexman. People with trouble sleeping should look to exercise at least three to four hours before bedtime, he says.
Myth: It's OK For Your Pet To Share Your Bed
<strong>Fact:</strong> Your furry friends are not the best bed partners. "Some people feel that having their pet in the room helps them sleep better," says Decker, "but if Fido snores and Fluffy is roaming around on the bed as cats often do, it can be very disruptive!"