With planning, 'you snooze, you lose' no longer applies to work week’s sleep debt

Contrary to popular belief, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t help you catch up on sleep lost during the week, but rather makes you sleepier come Monday morning.

“A great myth of sleep deprivation is that if we miss sleep over the course of the work week, we need to catch up on an hour-by-hour basis on the weekend,” says Dr. Gregory Carter, a sleep medicine specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The daily, or circadian, cycles guide the body’s internal clock. People can delay their circadian clock, up to one hour, by sleeping in one hour or more over the weekend. The problem is that after sleeping in on weekends, the brain’s circadian clock can be delayed up to two hours, making it tough to get to sleep Sunday and even more difficult to wake Monday morning.

Dr. Carter says turning in earlier is more effective than sleeping in later. Balancing any “sleep debt” from the work week can be accomplished by spending eight hours in bed. When we are really sleepy, our brains rest more efficiently.

“To maintain our internal clock, we need to go to bed eight hours before our usual time for getting out of bed in the morning,” Dr. Carter says. Too many of us, however, stay up later on Friday and Saturday nights and choose to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This pattern – combined with sleep-defeating actions that may include alcohol consumption and late-night checking of e-mails just prior to bedtime – makes for a painful Monday wake-up call.

Visit www.utsouthwestern.org/sleep to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in sleep and breathing disorders.

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