Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:34 pm

If you’ve had a week of late nights, could extra sleep over the weekend reduce the risks of insufficient sleep, such as obesity and diabetes?

Bad news night owls – if you often stay up late working, scrolling social media or watching TV, you may be at risk for developing metabolic problems, like obesity and diabetes.

Many people believe that you can ‘catch up’ and balance out the effects of late nights by sleeping later and napping over the weekend. But, is this true?

The short answer, according to new findings reported in Current Biology, is “no”.

“The key take-home message from this study is that 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.

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Nine vs five hours of sleep a night

In the new study, 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 – nine hours – each night for nine nights.
  • The second had five hours to sleep each night over that same period.
  • Finally, the third slept five hours for five days followed by a weekend in which they slept as much as they liked before returning to another two days of restricted sleep.

Lack of sleep leads to weight gain

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, study participants slept an hour longer on average than they usually would have. They also consumed fewer extra calories after dinner than those who had insufficient sleep.

However, when they went back 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.

The sleep restriction in the first group of participants was associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity of about 13 percent. 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 nine to 27 percent after they had insufficient sleep again, once the weekend was over.

“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 had 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.”

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How much sleep do you need?

The Sleep Research Society and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend seven or more hours of sleep nightly for adults, to promote optimal health.

The new findings add to evidence that insufficient sleep is a risk factor for metabolic disorders. It also shows that catching up on weekends isn’t the solution to chronic sleep loss during the week.

Wright says that it’s not yet clear whether weekend recovery sleep can be an effective health countermeasure for people who get too little sleep only occasionally – a night or two per week, perhaps. They hope to explore the finer details of these dynamics in future studies, including the influence of daytime napping and other strategies for getting more Zzzs.

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Source: Cell Press via

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