In our hectic day and age, its one of the most common
strategies for managing sleep: after a busy, sleep-deprived work week, many
people use the weekend to catch up on their rest. Whether its sleeping in on
the weekend mornings, or taking an afternoon nap, weekend are frequently a time
when people try to bank extra sleep—to make up for not getting enough the week
before and to prepare for sleep challenges of the week ahead.

It’s a strategy that’s only partially successful. New
research indicates
that although some of the negative effects of a week of insufficient sleep can
be remedied with extra sleep on the weekend, others cannot. Researchers at Penn
State University College of Medicine studied the effects of
weekend recovery sleep after a week of mild sleep deprivation. They found that make-up sleep on the
weekends erased only some of the deficits associated with not sleeping enough
the previous week.

The study included 30 healthy adult men and women who
participated in a 13-night sleep laboratory experiment designed to mimic a
sleep-restricted workweek followed by a weekend of recovery sleep. Participants
spent four nights sleeping 8 hours a night in order to establish a baseline.
They then spent 6 consecutive nights sleeping 6 hours nightly, an amount
similar to what many working adults might expect to sleep during a typical
week. Finally, volunteers spent a final 3 nights in recovery sleep mode,
sleeping 10 hours a night. At several points throughout the 13-day study
period, researchers tested the volunteers’ health and performance using several
measures, including:

  • Daytime
    sleepiness levels
  • Attention
  • Inflammation,
    as measured by levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a biomarker for
    inflammation in the body
  • Levels
    of the stress hormone cortisol 

Their analysis showed
weekend recovery sleep delivered mixed results.
They found that 6 nights of
restricted sleep led to significant deterioration across all but one
measurement of health and performance. Two days of sleep recovery allowed for
improvement to some, but not all, of those measurements:

  • After
    6 nights of sleep restriction, volunteers’ daytime sleepiness increased
    significantly. Two nights of
    recovery sleep brought levels of daytime sleepiness back to baseline
  • IL-6,
    the marker for inflammation, also rose significantly during the 6-night
    sleep restriction period. Inflammation
    returned to baseline levels after recovery sleep.
  • Cortisol
    levels did not rise or change during sleep restriction. However, after 2 nights of recovery sleep,
    cortisol levels dropped below measurements taken during the baseline phase
    of the experiment.
    Since cortisol levels are strongly linked to
    sleep duration, this finding suggests that the volunteers likely were
    already sleep deprived when the study began.
  • Attention
    levels dropped significantly during the course of the mild
    sleep-deprivation period. Unlike the other measurements, attention performance did
    NOT rebound after a weekend’s worth of recovery sleep.

The takeaway? Relying on weekends to make up sleep lost
during the week won’t fully restore health and function. In particular, you should not expect your attention and
focus to bounce back after a couple of days of extra sleep
. It’s important
to note that this study measures the effects of only a single cycle of
work-week sleep deprivation and weekend sleep recovery. The effects of an
extended pattern of sleep deprivation and recovery followed by more sleep
deprivation are not yet known. The benefits seen here in this study may not be
replicated over the long term. 

This isn’t to say
that recovery sleep can’t be useful and effective
. As this study shows, on
a short-term basis catching up on sleep can reverse some of the problems
associated with insufficient rest. Getting extra sleep on a weekend after a
particularly busy, sleep-scarce week is one option. Naps are another. Studies
show that napping
after a single night of sleep deprivation also can reverse some of the adverse
effects of sleep loss. Research also indicates that a combination of naps and
overnight recovery sleep can be effective in counteracting some negative
effects of sleep deprivation. 

Recovery sleep can be a useful short-term or occasional
strategy. But the best sleep strategy is one that avoids sleep deprivation as a
regular occurrence. It doesn’t take long for the adverse effects of
insufficient sleep to appear. The health consequences of just a week of mild
sleep deprivation can be seen in the current study and in other research, which
shows insufficient sleep associated with diminished cognitive performance, reduced
, and mood problems. Modest sleep deprivation increases inflammation,
interferes with healthy immune
, triggers metabolic changes
and drives up the impulse to overeat. Even a
single night of partial sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance,
disrupt hormone
, and elevate blood pressure

None of us may be able to avoid the occasional night
or period of insufficient sleep. But a healthy work-week sleep routine can and
should leave you with nothing sleep-related to catch up on when the weekend

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD 
The Sleep Doctor®

The Sleep Doctor’s Diet
Plan:  Lose Weight Through Better Sleep

Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep™ 
twitter: @thesleepdoctor  @sleepdrteam

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