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Do You Catch Up on Sleep Every Weekend? It Could Be Hurting Your Health

October 02, 2023

Whether it started with college all-nighters or parenting newborns, many of us chug along on less sleep than recommended. But you can just catch up on sleep over the weekend, right?

Not so fast. New research shows that sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t actually counteract all the harm that a lack of sleep has on the body.

“Sleep isn’t something we can make up on the weekend. Our body needs to recover on a daily basis, and needs to shut down completely to recover,” says Brad Biskup, PA, of the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute Lifestyle Medicine Program.

Here’s why that all that shut-eye is so important for your health.

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Sleep is all about your body recovering.

You may not realize it, but when you’re sleeping, your body is recovering – both physically and mentally.

“Our body needs to recover so getting at least six hours of sleep each night is essential. Four hours of quality sleep is when your body physiologically recovers, and the next two are when most neurological or psychological recovery occurs. Also, the longer we are in deep or REM sleep, the more our body recovers,” Biskup says.

And when we don’t get that recovery, your body suffers.

“The importance of sleep quality and quantity cannot be overstated. Poor sleep significantly increases the risk of all medical issues, especially cardiovascular disease and cancer,” he says.

> Related: Do I Need Less Sleep as I Get Older?

A lack of sleep prevents recovery – especially for your heart.

When your body gets stressed, it reacts by getting inflamed – including your heart.

“If we sleep less than we need, inflammation increases significantly,” he explains.

All that extra inflammation from increased stress can cause a “fight or flight” response to kick in as our body prepares for battle. And when we don’t end up fighting or running away, all that leftover inflammation increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, Biskup says.

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And it can also cause diabetes and cancer.

In addition, lack of sleep leads to increased insulin levels and the inflammation causes insulin receptors to not function as well. This leads to a condition called insulin resistance, which is correlated with type 2 diabetes, and also with cancer, says Biskup.

It’s not enough to sleep – it needs to be good quality.

While Biskup stresses the need for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly, he says the quality of shut-eye is almost as important.

“We need to be in the recovery phases of sleep – deep and REM sleep – to get the most benefit,” he explains.

Sometimes, we might fall sleep quickly but wake 1-3 hours later, which isn’t restorative rest. This is because they body is physically tired but the mind hasn’t had a chance to shut down, a problem that Biskup attributed to low levels of melatonin, the “sleep hormone.”

“Melatonin helps us maintain a deeper sleep,” he says, adding that night-time trips to the bathroom can also interrupt quality sleep.

How can I ensure good sleep?

Ready and motivated to improve your sleep quality, and hopefully your health?

Try these six tips to prepare your body and relax your mind before bed, says Biskup:

  1. Let it go! Decrease stress during the day. Do this through exercise, movement and allowing your mind to relax through meditation.
  2. Let it in! Practice slow breathing when stressed. This stimulates the “rest and repose” system in the body to decrease production of stress hormones. Moderate exercise, like a walk, can also help.
  3. Be present. Allow your mind to quiet down for 45-60 minutes before sleep. Shut out the world and its stressors by listening to meditation, nature sounds or music.
  4. Mind dumping. Write stressors in a journal before bed. This leaves your mind in a quieter place.
  5. Nosh on nuts. This type of snack stabilizes your blood sugar.
  6. No light is good light! Turn off electronics. The blue light and content on your cell phones and ipads are too stimulating.