Your weekend lie-in – is it helping?

Most of us enjoy the thought of a lie-in at the weekends – jobs and children and animals allowing of course.  But do they actually help us?  Or could they be making things worse?

I’ve written before about the health risks from lack of sleep – not just the increased risk of obesity and diabetes, but the effects on mental health too.

What wasn’t previously clear though was the effect of sleeping more at the weekend.  Did it make up for the sleep deficit?  Or did it make no difference at all? 

Now research from a team at the University of Colorado has shown that at best it makes no difference at all.  At worst though your weekend lie-in is actually multiplying your sleep problems.

The first problem is the effect that being chronically underslept has on our ability to gauge our real needs around sleep.  We underestimate how much sleep we really need, and how much we’re missing.  That means even with lie-ins that stretch to midday people simply don’t make up the shortfall in their sleep from the week. 

But it’s not that they don’t just work as a catch-up exercise for the hours we’ve lost.  Constantly moving from under-sleeping to over-sleeping and back again means that our metabolisms end up even more disrupted than from being under-slept.

Not surprisingly that disruption includes our melatonin levels, meaning that our sleep pattern problems become more ingrained the more we try to address them through a lie-in at weekends.

That disruption also extends to our levels of ghrelin, the ‘hunger’ hormone.  These increase with the disruption caused by the yo-yo sleep pattern, and when that’s coupled with the sleep linked drop in willpower, we end up overeating.  It can be enough to account for 1.5kg of weight gain.

I’m not saying lie-ins shouldn’t be allowed, just that we shouldn’t rely on them to compensate for sleep problems in other nights of the week.  In fact, they’ll probably only increase them.

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