Why Weekend Catch-Up Sleep is Not Good For Productivity

Instead of spending long hours in bed, make time for extracurricular activities

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Most of us look forward to the weekend just so that we can pay off the week's "sleep debt" with more napping hours over the weekend. But that's not a good idea.

A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the US suggests that even if we gain a few benefits from sleeping in on the weekends, our health still takes a hit, which, in turn, affects our performance at work the following week. "... ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep loss induced disruptions of metabolism," says Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Take a Break

For adults, the ideal number of hours to promote optimal health and productivity is seven to eight hours every day. Insufficient sleep is not only a risk factor for metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity but also hampers concentration and performance at work.

To find out whether catching up on weekends is a solution to chronic sleep loss during the week, researchers led by Christopher Depner and Wright enlisted healthy young adults. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first had plenty of time to sleep (9 hours) each night for nine days. The second, on the other hand, had just five hours to sleep each night over that same period. The third slept five hours for as many days followed by a weekend in which they slept as much as they liked before returning to another two days of restricted sleep.

In the two sleep-restricted groups, insufficient sleep led to an increase in snacking after dinner and weight gain. During ad libitum weekend recovery sleep in the third group, the participants slept an hour longer on average than they usually would. They also consumed fewer extra calories after dinner than those who got insufficient sleep, the researchers said.

However, when they returned to getting insufficient sleep after the weekend, their circadian body clock was timed later. They also ate more after dinner as their weight continued to rise.

Health Attack

The sleep restriction in the first group of participants was associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity of about 13 per cent, says the study, which was published in the Current Biology journal. But the group that had a chance to sleep more on the weekend still showed less sensitivity to insulin. The insulin sensitivity of their whole bodies, liver, and muscle decreased by 9 to 27 per cent after they got insufficient sleep again, once the weekend was over, the researchers say.

"Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep," Depner says, noting that those metabolic aberrations weren't seen in the people who got less sleep all along. "This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely (to be) an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic."

Get Out

Instead of spending long hours in the bed during the weekend, try indulging in extracurricular or recreational activities. Become an active member of a volunteer organization, or even a recreational club, or learn a new language, paint, dance or engage in some sports activity.

Such indulgence sharpens your creative side, refreshes you, helps beat stress and offers you an opportunity to meet new people and gain a new perspective—all of which can be useful in keeping you happy and engaged in and outside the workplace.