I have this friend—let’s call her Mackenzie*—who loves sleeping in on weekends. Yet, despite the unique bliss that is waking up Saturday morning (or afternoon) feeling fully rested after a long week, Mackenzie always feels a little guilty for letting herself lounge among the snuggly blankets and pillows instead of darting up to go for a run or do some other energetic thing in the style of her morning lark friends. (Let’s be real: Who actually wants to work out first thing on a weekend morning?!)
Plus, she feels doubly guilty because doctors have always told her to try regulating her sleep schedule. You’ve heard the script: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the ideal. This point is driven home so often it’s easy to find yourself wondering if sleeping in is ever a good idea.
But now night owls are vindicated. A new study found that people who binge slept on weekends had the same life expectancy as people who sleep seven hours every night.
The researchers analyzed the sleep patterns of more than 38,000 people in Sweden over the course of 13 years. Participants reported how much they slept on weekdays versus on weekends.
It turned out that people who slept longer on weekends had lower mortality than people who slept less than five hours on weekends. This could mean that getting extra sleep on weekends helps make up for sleep loss during the week, though the study didn’t prove that.
For weekend sleepyheads, this is a big deal. Doctors typically recommend trying to get the same amount of sleep every night, which can be difficult to achieve if you’re a night owl. But for Nathaniel Watson, M.D. M.Sc., a neurologist and sleep specialist who co-directs the UW Medicine Sleep Center, it isn’t exactly news.
“I don’t think suggesting that make-up sleep can be of benefit is a huge revelation,” Watson says. He also notes that the study’s design of having people self-report sleep habits is somewhat flawed for truly understanding sleep duration, since people may not know how long they’re actually asleep for. (Come morning, 2 a.m. bathroom runs tend to be forgotten.)
Ultimately, it’s simple, he says: Sleep is good, sleep deprivation is bad. (And not getting enough sleep is linked to a host of medical problems, from diabetes to depression.)
“It is best if a person is getting adequate sleep with no sleep debt and wakes up every morning refreshed. Next best would be making up for weekday sleep loss on weekends and naps during the week. Worst is sleep deprivation,” he says.
Sleeping a consistent amount (and trying to get at least seven hours each night) is the best practice because it helps reduce your chances of accumulating sleep debt, Watson says. Sleep debt is when you consistently don’t sleep enough and don’t make up for it via naps or sleeping longer on weekends.
As you can imagine, the more sleep debt you have, the harder it is to pay off (just like those pesky student loans). But hey, if you lose several hours of sleep during the week and make up for it by sleeping until noon on Sunday, more power to you. If you can, practice good sleep hygiene during the week and try to stick to a bedtime schedule—but don’t get down on yourself if you can’t.
*It’s me. The “friend” is me.