Sleep Debt: Can We Compensate For Sleep Deprivation On Weekends?

The idea of “paying off sleep debt” that accumulates throughout the work week has thus far been widely dismissed as wishful thinking. The general consensus is that you either get enough sleep each night or you don’t – and cramming in a few extra hours on your days off, although it might feel good, can’t possibly fix the physiological damage caused by sleep deprivation.

But here’s some great news for all of us who’ve been hoping that the sleep debt we pile on could somehow be paid off on those blissful weekend mornings. A study published in 2018 in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that we may be able to “catch up on sleep” after all, by sleeping in on our days off.

It’s not that straightforward, however.

A different take on sleep deprivation research

For this study, researchers gathered the data of more than 38,000 adults from Sweden, which was collected in a medical survey in 1997. The survey included two questions that were keys to this research: one about sleep duration during workdays/weeknights, and the other concerning sleep duration on days off.

And that’s exactly what makes this study stand out from the previous research concerning sleep deprivation and mortality risk. Previous studies focused on questions about the “usual” sleep duration of participants, while this one focuses specifically on the link between the “usual” sleep duration and the occurrence of sleeping in.

Using Sweden’s national death register, the research team followed up on the cohort for 13 years, controlling for the factors that can contribute to health or mortality risk (gender, smoking, BMI, etc.)

They found that those who slept 5 hours or less per night had a 65% higher risk of death during the study period than those who slept 6-7 hours nightly. However, the participants with short weekday sleep who habitually slept in on weekends didn’t appear to have an increased mortality risk.

Now, these findings clearly lead to the assumption that we could compensate for lost sleep in some way, but it’s far from definitive proof. A weekend sleep-in may be able to mitigate the effects of weeklong exhaustion, but there’s certainly a limit, as many physiological changes induced by cumulative sleep debt can be long-term.

Perhaps a more important factor than the number of extra hours of sleep is consistency and the possibility of establishing well-timed cycles of regular sleep and sleeping in.

In the end, no matter how we put it, our search for recurring sleep compensation reflects a deeper issue.

Night owls in a morning lark’s world

Another study published in 2018 concludes that “night owls” have a 10% higher mortality risk than “larks,” AKA “morning people.” Drawing from data of nearly half a million participants, this study also stands out from the rest in the field as it is the first to focus on mortality risk.

The researchers took into account the expected health problems identified in night owls in previous studies (such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic dysfunction) and still found the increased mortality risk.  

The findings, although new, aren’t very shocking, considering the adjustment evening types make to adapt to the socially imposed timing of work and all other activities.

Kristen Knutson, the co-lead author of the study, puts it best, saying in a statement: “Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies. It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment.”

The study further shows higher rates of diabetes, psychological disorders, and neurological disorders among people who stay up late. The researchers emphasize that this is a public health issue that we need to pay attention to, both in regards to making work schedules more flexible and researching the possibility of shifting owls’ body clocks.

Becoming a lark

The issue with relying on weekends to make up for lost sleep, despite the reported benefits, is that come Monday, things are bound to get really tough when that alarm rings. The study on weekend sleep examined mortality rates – not the optimal hours of extra sleep, or the difficulty of getting your circadian rhythm back on track. In short, it might sound like great news at first, but if you’re eager to overdo it with sleeping in every weekend, you’ll still be stuck in a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation.

This is difficult to embrace for night owls, myself included. But in the end, shifting your body clock to become more of a morning person is a better solution for so many reasons. And it’s easier than it sounds at first. With the rising popularity of natural sleeping aids such as CBD oil and techniques such as meditation, millions of people are finding a healthy alternative to dangerous sleep meds to help them start going to bed earlier, get quality sleep, and establish a consistent rhythm.

Don’t worry, you’re not doomed. Committing to going to bed early and keeping a consistent sleeping schedule is just the formation of a habit. It’s shifting your behavior which, with time, will adjust your internal body clock.

And remember: it’s easy to slip into old habits and binge-sleep on weekends, and then count sheep on Sunday night. Forming any good habit takes effort and discipline, which means you might have to go back to square one a few times before you get the hang of it.

Tips On Overcoming Sleep Problems During Pregnancy

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep in the Third Trimester is a Challenge

As the body changes, a pregnant woman may suddenly find a handful of reasons she can’t get to sleep at night. Try these tips for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

A common complaint among pregnant women, particularly those in their third trimester, is the inability to fall (and stay) asleep at night. Many factors are often to blame, making it difficult to know exactly how to address the issue. From growing size to frequent urination, there seems to be no break for a rest. But some very basic techniques can help pregnant women get the sleep they need.

Why Can’t I Sleep?

As the body changes throughout the first and second trimesters, some women may notice changes in their sleeping pattern. Most, however, aren’t too affected until they reach month seven or so. As the body rapidly adapts to the growing baby, some issues may arise:

Frequent urination can be a huge annoyance. As the kidneys do double-duty to filter the increased blood volume (about 40% more than normal), the body produces more urine. At the same time, the baby’s growth has increased pressure on the bladder, making the time between bathroom trips very short. Babies active at night may also increase the number of trips for some mothers.

A rapid heartbeat is needed to pump that extra blood throughout the body, but some women find it difficult to relax in these circumstances.

Shortness of breath, due to pressure on the lungs and the release of certain hormones, can make it a challenge to fall asleep at night. As the fetus grows, the diaphragm will compress more and more, increasing the pressure on the lungs.

Aches and pains are quite common, since a pregnant woman’s center of balance shifts and places extra pressure on new areas. Leg cramps and lower back pain are a typical night-time complaint since the hormone relaxin is working to stretch out and loosen the ligaments to prepare for delivery. Injuries and strains become more likely later in pregnancy.

Digestive problems, like heartburn and constipation, abound as the process of digestion slows down. Food backs up in the digestive tract, taking longer to break down, and the result is mom’s discomfort.

Get Comfortable

Doctors recommend that pregnant women lay on their side at night to allow proper blood flow throughout the body. For stomach- and back-sleepers this might be difficult, but it’s important. Choosing a comfortable mattress and pillows is a must as they will help make a pregnant woman more comfortable at night. Use pillows under the belly, behind the back, and between the legs. Try experimenting with different pillows (body pillows, wedges, etc.) and different positions.

Get Prepared

When it’s almost time to get to sleep, start preparing the body for bedtime. Take a relaxing bath, have a glass of warm mylk, or a night-time massage. Putting the mind at ease can help make the transition to sleep easier. For some, foods high in carbohydrates, like a snack of bread or crackers, will help with sleep troubles. And to limit bathroom trips, be sure to avoid drinking fluids too close to bedtime!

Get Healthy

The right nutrition and exercise can go a long way, especially during pregnancy. Certain things should be avoided and added to optimize sleep:

Adding calcium to the diet will help to curb those painful leg cramps.

Protein-rich diets can ward off those unpleasant pregnancy nightmares.

Skipping caffeine, or limiting it as much as possible, can have a dramatic effect. Many pregnant women’s bodies cannot break down caffeine, so it remains in the system much longer than usual.

Avoid foods that trigger heartburn.

Get enough fibre to reduce constipation.

Try yoga for relaxation, walks to keep joints limber and moderate activity to help promote sleep. Adding exercise every day might be the key to getting to bed at night.

Paying attention to the body, staying relaxed, and getting the right nutrition is essential to quieting the mind and getting a good night’s sleep during pregnancy. Follow these tips and try to stay positive; only a few more months (or weeks) to go!