A new study published in the journal Current Biology raises intriguing questions about whether it is a good idea for people who miss out on sleep during the week to try to catch up on that sleep during the weekend. In a small study, Colorado researchers found that being deprived of sleep during the week was associated with several negative health effects that did not abate when that lack of sleep was made up for during the weekend. Lead study author Kenneth Wright Jr. directs the sleep lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For the study, the researchers recruited 36 healthy adults aged 18 to 39. None of the participants had newborns in the home or any health impairments that would affect the quality of their sleep. Once selected, the participants were divided into three groups that were watched over a period of ten days in a lab.
The first group of participants were selected to sleep nine hours a night for nine consecutive days. The second group of participants slept for five hours a night for the nine days. The third group slept five hours a night for five days, then could sleep as much as they liked for two days before returning to the five hours a night schedule.
The researchers found that both sleep-deprived groups snacked more at night, resulting in weight gain in both the men and women. The men that were sleep-deprived for the entire experiment showed a 2.8 percent increase in their weight, while women in that group experienced a 1.1 percent increase in weight. In the catch-up sleep group, men had a 3 percent increase in weight while the women had a 0.05 percent increase.
Both groups also saw declines in insulin sensitivity, a warning sign for diabetes. The group that was on the restricted sleep schedule the entire time experienced a 13 percent decline in their insulin sensitivity. For the catch-up sleep group, the decline in insulin sensitivity ranged from 9 to 27 percent.
The research appears to show that the health effects of sleep deprivation tend to linger even after days of sleeping more if the person returns to their previous sleeping patterns. A previous study showed that people who didn’t get enough sleep had a higher risk of several health conditions, including heart attack or stroke, higher blood pressure, and higher blood sugar. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults should get seven or more hours of sleep per night.