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Getting some extra shut-eye on the weekend won’t protect you from the dangers of sleep deprivation, according to new research.

Since the 1990s, scientists have understood that missing sleep can affect a person’s metabolic health, causing behavioral and physiological changes that can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

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The idea among many is to use the weekend to make up for lost sleep during the workweek. But is extra sleep on the weekends enough to reduce those risks? The short answer, according to new findings reported in Current Biology on February 28, is “no.”

“The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum [Latin for “at one’s pleasure”] weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep loss induced disruptions of metabolism,”

– Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder

The team worked with young adults who were vetted for any pre-existing sleep-related conditions and more general health issues. Those found healthy were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group was assigned plenty of sleep: 9 hours per night for 9 consecutive nights. Members of the second groups, likely envious of the first, were allowed only 5 hours of sleep per night over the same period. Lastly, the third group slept 5 hours for 5 nights, followed by a weekend in which they were allowed as much sleep as they wanted and then another 2 days of restricted (5-hours) sleep.

Both of the sleep-deprived groups snacked more after dinner and gained weight during the study, men much more than women. The sleep-deprived men showed a 2.8% increase in their weight, while women’s body size went up by only 1.1%; men who slept in on the weekend showed a 3% increase in weight, while women’s body size went up 0.05%.

The group that had a chance to sleep more on the weekend still showed less sensitivity to insulin. The insulin sensitivity of their whole bodies, liver, and muscle decreased by 9 to 27 percent after they got insufficient sleep again, once the weekend was over.

“Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep,”

“This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely [to be] an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic.”

– Christopher M. Depner of the University of Colorado Boulder

The new findings add to evidence that insufficient sleep is a risk factor for metabolic disorders. It also shows that catching up on weekends isn’t the solution to chronic sleep loss during the week.

One of the reasons the weekend group may have been more affected is because their circadian rhythm, or biological clock, had been altered, depriving the body of certain hormones. But it’s not yet clear whether weekend recovery sleep can be an effective health countermeasure for people who get too little sleep only occasionally – maybe a night or two per week, perhaps.

The Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend 7 or more hours of sleep nightly for adults, to promote optimal health.

Reference:

Christopher M. Depner, Edward L. Melanson, Robert H. Eckel, Ellen R. Stothard, Sarah J. Morton, Kenneth P. Wright Jr. Ad libitum Weekend Recovery Sleep Fails to Prevent Metabolic Dysregulation during a Repeating Pattern of Insufficient Sleep and Weekend Recovery Sleep Published: February 28, 2019DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.069