Are you one to burn the candle at both ends during the week? Get to bed late, rise early, all in the hope you’ll make up for it with a glorious sleep-in or two on the weekend? Health literature tends to emphasise how vital it is to have a typical sleep routine that doesn’t change much between the weekdays and the weekend, revitalising your mind and body. On that basis, you wouldn’t expect making up for a tiring week with naps on the weekend is a strategy that could work. Yet a recent study suggests it may well do.
In this study, researchers looked at a Swedish dataset of almost 40,000 people. Each person had been asked how many hours they slept on a regular weeknight and on the weekend. From this, a number of groups could be formed. There were the lucky folks who had long sleeps on weeknights and the weekend, but at the other end of the scale were people who had short sleeps seven nights a week. Then there were groups marked by some combination of these patterns – for example, those who had short sleeps during the week and longer sleeps on the weekend. Short sleep was considered fewer than five hours, while long sleep was more than nine hours. The study followed these people for 13 years, tracking those who died and recording their cause of death.
There were a number of interesting findings the researchers made in this sleep study. The good news was that for those people who had short sleeps during the week but long weekend lie-ins, there was no increased risk of death. Unsurprisingly – and in line with other studies – having consistently short sleep on both weeknights and weekdays was associated with higher mortality. But the same was true if you went the other way – if you slept overlong you also had a higher risk. Maybe those people aren’t so lucky after all. And it’s important to note that all these results were for people under the age of 65. The researchers couldn’t find any meaningful differences in mortality based on sleep pattern for people older than 65.
As with most things health, moderation is key – if you’re getting about eight hours and keeping it consistent, you’re doing well. But what this study suggests is if you’re short on sleep until the weekend, it is possible to make up for it – maybe just don’t make it a habit.