#286 Is Weekend Catch Up Sleep Healthy?

Is Weekend Catch Up Sleep Healthy?

Getting enough sleep during the workweek is hard.  Wouldn’t it be great if weekend catch up sleep could undo any damage from sleep deprivation?  In this study, I review a new study that goes against decades of sleep research.

The Longevity Plan

Ma Xue, one of the centenarians we came to love and know during our time in China’s Longevity Village, taught a timeless principle.

“My life is simple. Because of this, it is easy to know when something is out of balance.”

Sadly, our modern lives are usually a rhythmic mess. Indeed, when I see new patients whose hearts are out of rhythm, it is usually because their lives are also out of rhythm.  We’re generally not just out of rhythm in one way, but rather in multiple ways. And while we might be able to withstand a bit of disequilibrium in one part of our life, it’s hard to keep our balance when so many parts of our lives are so out of sync.

But starting quite simply, we can rebuild this balance piece by piece. And perhaps the best place is where almost all of us start each day, and where we end up each night.

Modern Life = Lack of Sleep?

Most of us wake up based on when we need to be somewhere, and from day to day that often changes. An early morning meeting can prompt a wake-up that is an hour or two earlier than usual. A late plane flight out of town can mean an extra few hours of slumber in the morning. And even if we keep a typical 9:00-to-5:00 workday, our five-days-on-two-days-off schedules promote sleeping timetables that are anything but routine.

Of course, very few of us are in a position to perfectly align our schedules to a sunrise-to-sunset existence. There are, however, things that almost all of us can do to bring a more consistent rhythm to our lives.  And while we work to bring our lives and our sleep into balance, fortunately, a new study just came out that offers hope.

Weekend Catch Up Sleep Study

I was amazed to read about a recent study looking at sleep duration and longevity.  After sifting through 13 years of records on 43,880 Swedes, they stumbled upon something that was rather interesting.

It should come as no surprise that these researchers found that those sleeping five or fewer hours each night increased their chances of dying early by 65%.  However, if these same sleep-deprived people could catch up by sleeping longer on the weekend, then their survival was as if they slept seven hours each night.  If this is true, it tells us that even if you have an incredibly demanding job, there is no longevity hit provided you can get some weekend catch up sleep.

I can’t even begin to tell you how this study contradicts decades of previous research.  And, quite frankly, I need to see some additional research to convince me that these findings are actually correct.

The Dangers of Acute Sleep Deprivation

To understand how bad sleep deprivation is for us, we have merely to look at the time of the year in which almost everyone is simultaneously thrown off kilter: when most folks across the United States “spring forward” an hour to accommodate for daylight saving time, effectively losing an hour of sleep. On the Monday following the spring daylight saving change, the incidence of heart attacks rises 24 percent, and the impact continues on Tuesday, when rates drop only slightly to 21 percent above the usual rate.

A lack of sleep impacts us right down to the genetic level, affecting the expression of more than 700 genes, which in turn dictate everything from our rates of metabolism, to the way our bodies deal with inflammation, to the antibodies created inside our cells to deal with infections or toxins. Pulling just one late-night work session or just staying up to watch a single TV show leads to the release of some of the same biomarkers that are increased with a concussion.

The Snooze Button

And we’re doing this damage en masse! Up to 70 million of us struggle with sleep according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you regularly smack the snooze button in the morning, then chances are that you are part of this group. (And any rest you get after hitting the snooze doesn’t really even count; the sleep is so fragmented it doesn’t do anything for your body.)

My Sleep Challenges

Doctors belong to a culture that has long revered the idea of the sleepless physician selflessly putting patients’ needs above his or her own. And sure, the idea of a doctor turning in at 10:00 p.m. each night for a good night’s sleep might not be as dramatically alluring as that of a doctor who is staying up late reading through patient records in a heroic quest to save the day.

I firmly believe, though, that my commitment to a consistent bedtime when I am home has made me a better doctor for my patients. Indeed, a lack of sleep is the most significant predictor of clinical burnout, a combination of exhaustion and lack of interest in work that looks a lot like depression. You can’t help anyone when you’re burnt out.

Weekend Catch Up Sleep Didn’t Exist in The Longevity Village

For most of the past century in China’s Longevity Village, it has been a relatively simple task to be in sync with the sun, because electricity didn’t come to the village until just a few decades ago and, even once it did, there weren’t many televisions or computers until quite recently. After a long day of soaking up the sun while working in the fields and knowing that there was always another day just like it ahead, villagers had little reason to avoid getting the sleep their bodies need.

Is Weekend Catch Up Sleep Legit?

This study definitely offers hope for those who have demanding workday schedules.  Perhaps weekend catch up sleep may be a longevity hack for people with busy jobs.

Unfortunately, this is a possible longevity hack that doesn’t work for me.  The challenge I have is that I am no longer able to sleep later on weekends.  For me, my body always wakes up at the same time regardless of the day.

Regardless, I have a few concerns with weeekend catch up sleep…

1. We really don’t understand the potential risks of “yo-yo sleeping” over time.

2. Even though weekend catch up sleep may erase the longevity hit from acute sleep deprivation, what about your cognitive, behavioral, and metabolic health?

3. Are there irreparable biologic changes to your body even though you get weekend catch up sleep?

Weekend Catch Up Sleep May Fight Weight Gain

In defense of weekend catch up sleep, I did come across another interesting study.  As you know, sleep deprivation revs up your hunger hormones.  Indeed, it is well known that people who don’t sleep tend to gain weight.  However, this weight gain from sleep deprivation can be neutralized by weekend catch up sleep.

Make the Best of An Imperfect World

Not everyone can simply align their lives with the rotation of the globe. Shift workers. Traveling salespeople. Emergency workers. Graveyard convenience store clerks. Hospital staff members. As a cardiologist who is often called upon to care for patients with middle-of-the-night emergencies, this is a fact of life for me, too.

While weekend catch up sleep is certainly not ideal, it is probably less bad for you than sleep deprivation.  I just wish I could sleep in on the weekends…

Does weekend catch up sleep work for you?  Please leave your comments below.

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3 Comments
  1. Dear Dr Day
    You book is great!
    You don’t mention how or if your EoE ever got resolved. I’m interested if you still have this.

    • Hi Vee,

      Thank you so much for reading The Longevity Plan!!! We are so honored that you loved the book! If you get a minute, would you mind following this link and leaving our book a review on Amazon? https://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Plan-Life-Transforming-Lessons-Ancient/dp/0062319817

      To answer your question, yes my eosinophilic esophagitis seems to have resolved. From the age of 7 to 44, I had countless trips to the ER for food impaction. Several times a week food would get stuck in my esophagus. I became very adept at excusing myself from the table to dislodge the impacted food in the restroom.

      Prior to my health turnaround that we describe in The Longevity Plan, I was on daily omeprazole as well as a steroid solution that I would swallow each day so that I could swallow food.

      For the last 6-7 years, all of this has gone away. I take no meds of any kind. Food no longer gets stuck in my esophagus. As I am not having any more symptoms, I have declined a follow-up endoscopy. I’m sure I have some degree of esophageal stricture from nearly 40 years of symptomatic eosinophilic esophagitis, however, it no longer bothers me at this time.

      All the best,

      John

  2. Sometimes it works for me; more likely on a three day weekend, when I can get off the “merry-go-round of stress” and let my body relax a little more. Most of the time I tend to have the problem of uniform waking, usually around 5:30ish, even when the clock is turned off. I really need more sleep!