Most peo­ple look for­ward to the week­end, and not at all in order to devote these days to their favorite hob­bies, walks and out­door activ­i­ties. And in order to final­ly sleep for real, until it stops, until the body itself wants to get out of bed. But doc­tors and sci­en­tists say that liv­ing in a mode of lack of sleep on week­days and pro­longed sleep on week­ends is unhealthy.

Med­AboutMe under­stood the nuances of this prob­lem.

Sleep debt

Accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC), one in three adults in the Unit­ed States does not meet the rec­om­mend­ed amount of sleep rec­om­mend­ed by doc­tors, which is at least 7 hours a day. Most often, the rea­son for this is work­load, numer­ous stress­es, and the pecu­liar­i­ties of life in big cities.

At the same time, reg­u­lar lack of sleep is known to be asso­ci­at­ed with an increased risk of obe­si­ty, dia­betes and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. And a recent study by doc­tors from Brigham and Wom­en’s Hos­pi­tal showed that reg­u­lar sleep of less than 6 hours a day leads to a dete­ri­o­ra­tion in con­cen­tra­tion by 5 times, to an increase in reac­tion time by 2 times, and in gen­er­al there are prob­lems with solv­ing tasks designed for log­ic, com­pared to peo­ple who got 7 or more hours of sleep dai­ly. More­over, these effects occur even if a per­son does not feel tired and believes that he is work­ing effec­tive­ly.

At the same time, a huge num­ber of peo­ple work­ing in the 5/2 mode fly on week­days as “larks”, forc­ing them­selves to get up at 5–7 in the morn­ing, and “owls” live on week­ends, going to bed on Fri­day well after mid­night and get­ting up on Sat­ur­day and Sun­day at lunch area. This is a kind of attempt to com­pen­sate for chron­ic lack of sleep, which affects a sig­nif­i­cant part of work­ing cit­i­zens. But is it pos­si­ble to give back the sleep debt accu­mu­lat­ed over the week to your body?

Alas, if cred­it card debt can be closed at the touch of a but­ton, debt to one­self for sleep­ing one or even two days of stay­ing in bed “all the way” can­not be closed. Accord­ing to doc­tors, in order to ful­ly com­pen­sate for reg­u­lar lack of sleep, you need to sleep the pre­scribed 7–8 hours of sleep every day for 1–2 weeks — only then all the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of chron­ic sleep defi­cien­cy will be elim­i­nat­ed.

Hormones and lack of sleep

Hormones and lack of sleep

In Feb­ru­ary 2019, sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado pub­lished the results of a sim­ple exper­i­ment that aimed to find out if a long week­end nap can com­pen­sate for sleep depri­va­tion dur­ing the work week. A group of 36 young healthy peo­ple were divid­ed into three groups:

  • those who slept only 5 hours a day — both on week­days and on week­ends;
  • those who slept for 5 hours on week­days slept to the lim­it on week­ends and then slept again for 5 hours. An impor­tant point: this group “walked” until mid­night or even until one in the morn­ing on Fri­days and Sat­ur­days, and the next morn­ing, the sub­jects slept until 11 am or noon (as peo­ple usu­al­ly do when work­ing in 5/2 mode). Over­all, over the week­end, they gained only 1.1 hours more than their bod­ies need­ed;
  • the con­trol group includ­ed peo­ple who got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sleep for 8 hours every night — both on week­days and on week­ends.

It turned out that peo­ple who were forced to sleep deprived reg­u­lar­ly snacked in the evenings, which gave them extra calo­ries and led to weight gain. True, those who slept on week­ends did it less often, so they gained weight less inten­sive­ly. But still, both the first and sec­ond groups gained weight by an aver­age of 1.5 kg dur­ing the exper­i­ment. That is, the sci­en­tists con­clud­ed, even the abil­i­ty to sleep on week­ends does not elim­i­nate the increased risk of obe­si­ty.

Where does the crav­ing for food with lack of sleep come from? It’s all about the hor­mones that con­trol hunger. For exam­ple, in lep­tin: dur­ing the work week, both sleep-deprived groups reg­u­lar­ly arranged evening addi­tion­al snacks of 400–650 kcal, which includ­ed yogurt, chips and pas­tries.

Blood tests of the par­tic­i­pants in the exper­i­ment showed that peo­ple who did not get enough sleep also had reduced insulin sen­si­tiv­i­ty — about 13% low­er than peo­ple who got enough sleep every day. But reduced insulin sen­si­tiv­i­ty is the road to devel­op­ing resis­tance to this impor­tant hor­mone and, as a result, a direct path to dia­betes.

More­over, it turned out that sleep­ing on week­ends is more harm­ful for the body than con­stant­ly suf­fer­ing from lack of sleep. For those who slept on Sat­ur­days and Sun­days, insulin sen­si­tiv­i­ty fell by 27% for the liv­er and mus­cles, that is, jumps in sleep dura­tion between week­days and week­ends are hor­mon­al­ly more harm­ful to the body than sta­ble lack of sleep with­out the abil­i­ty to com­pen­sate for it for week­end.

Expert com­ment

Endocri­nol­o­gist, Pro­fes­sor Peter Liu, David Gef­fen School of Med­i­cine at UCLA

Sleep is one of the three pil­lars of a healthy lifestyle, along with exer­cise and prop­er nutri­tion. You would­n’t tell any­one, “You can diet Mon­day through Fri­day, but eat what­ev­er you want on week­ends.” The same prin­ci­ple holds true for sleep.

social jetlag

social jetlag

There is anoth­er prob­lem of chang­ing sleep dura­tion, and it is called “social jet lag”. When we fly from one time zone to anoth­er, we also suf­fer from jet lag — the body has to urgent­ly rearrange cir­ca­di­an rhythms to shift day and night, and the greater the dif­fer­ence between time zones, the more the body suf­fers.

Rough­ly the same thing hap­pens at the end of the week, when we abrupt­ly switch from one mode to anoth­er — even if the dura­tion of sleep remains nor­mal and does not change! For exam­ple, if on week­days a per­son slept from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. (the mid­dle of sleep was at 3 a.m.), and on week­ends he lives accord­ing to the sched­ule “sleep from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.” (the mid­dle of sleep falls at 6 a.m.), then we get a shift of the usu­al mode by 3 hours.

Cal­cu­la­tions by experts from the Asso­ci­at­ed Pro­fes­sion­al Sleep Soci­ety showed that every hour of such a regime shift increas­es the risk of devel­op­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease by 11%, and also increas­es the like­li­hood of devel­op­ing depres­sion, chron­ic sleepi­ness and fatigue.

An inter­est­ing point: sci­en­tists point out the impor­tance of main­tain­ing the mid­point of sleep. In their opin­ion, to avoid social jet­lag at the week­end, it is enough to stick to this point. That is, on week­ends, go to bed a lit­tle ear­li­er, and get up a lit­tle lat­er. Thus, you will be able to stay in your tem­po­rary mode and make up for the hours of sleep you missed dur­ing the week.


Try­ing to sleep off on the week­end after not get­ting enough sleep dur­ing the work week leads to the Blue Mon­day effect, which is expressed in increased fatigue and reduced per­for­mance on the first day of the work week.

Still, it’s better to sleep than not to sleep!

Still, it's better to sleep than not to sleep!

Well, it turns out that sleep on the week­end can be use­less and even harm­ful? No. Swedish sci­en­tists from the Karolin­s­ka Insti­tutet in Stock­holm still proved its ben­e­fits. Over the course of 13 years, they observed 43 thou­sand adults — they assessed their sleep, health sta­tus and record­ed mor­tal­i­ty.

It turned out that adults under 65 who con­sis­tent­ly got 5 or less hours of sleep were 65% more like­ly to die pre­ma­ture­ly than those who slept at least 6–7 hours per night. We add that sleep last­ing 8 hours or more also increased the risk of ear­ly death — by 25%. And those who slept lit­tle on week­days, but slept off on the week­ends, did not fall into the group of those dying ahead of time and, accord­ing to this indi­ca­tor, were equat­ed to those who slept 6–7 hours every day.

So in terms of life expectan­cy, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sleep on the week­end is price­less when it comes to chron­ic sleep depri­va­tion dur­ing the work week.


  • Sta­ble cir­ca­di­an rhythms, not knocked down by jumps in sleep between week­days and week­ends, are the key to the health of the endocrine and ner­vous sys­tems. There­fore, it is best to revise your sched­ule on week­days and add the miss­ing 1–2 hours of sleep there.
  • Hav­ing set your­self 8 hours of sleep dur­ing the work week, you should not change this sched­ule on the week­ends. After all, if you get up lat­er, then you will want to sleep lat­er — there will be prob­lems with falling asleep, and this neg­a­tive­ly affects the cir­ca­di­an rhythms that the endocrine sys­tem that pro­duces hor­mones works on.
  • If life and work have devel­oped in such a way that on week­days you have to sleep lit­tle on a reg­u­lar basis, you should allow your­self to sleep off on week­ends. But then it is bet­ter not to shift the moment of going to bed to a lat­er time, but to go to bed, on the con­trary, a lit­tle ear­li­er and allow your­self to sleep off in the morn­ing. This will save mid-sleep time and min­i­mize the neg­a­tive effects of chang­ing the reg­i­men.


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