How to pay off “sleep debt” on the weekends.
You’ve likely been warned that in order to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, a regimented sleep schedule in which your bedtime and wake time remain the same, seven days a week, is key. This is because, when you “lose” hours of sleep, you rack up what’s called a “sleep debt,” aka the collective hours of sleep deprivation throughout a week, month, etc.
For example, if you function most optimally on eight hours of sleep, but only clock in six hours of quality snooze time, your sleep debt is two hours, but that’s only accounting for one night. The numbers add up throughout the week, so it’s no surprise that abiding by an alarm is the last thing you want to do come Saturday morning.
Still, according to ?URA sleep advisor and associate scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, the best thing you can do for your sleep cycle in this scenario is, ironically, to change very little about your regimen.
Think of it this way: Have you ever woken up at noon on a Saturday morning and felt a little discombobulated? Like your head was in a cloud? This is because, to your body, sleeping in late feels similar to waking up in a new time zone. If you’d been waking up at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, that significant change in sleep time “can cause our internal biological clock to become confused,” explains Robbins. Ergo, keeping your sleep time consistent is so vital to not only your sleep system but also to your health.
It’s not always realistic, though.
Life happens, and when you’re juggling work responsibilities with home responsibilities, school work, family life, social events, etc., clocking in eight hours a night isn’t always feasible. Luckily, if you absolutely cannot get enough sleep during the workweek, there are some doable sleep strategies you can implement into your weekend that will help you relax properly and ensure you feel rested and restored come Monday morning.
While it’s tempting to sleep in on the weekends, sleep experts say that your bedtimes and wakeup times shouldn’t differ by more than an hour from day to day. To keep sleep debt from accumulating, prioritize shut-eye during the week as much as you can. And once the weekend hits, lean on well-timed naps and solid sleep hygiene strategies for optimal recovery.