Weekend lie-ins 'rarely sufficient to erase sleep debt'

Portrait of woman lying on bed
Many miss out on the recommended six to nine hours sleep a night, particularly midweek. (Getty Images)

Exhausted commuters often rely on the weekends to get some much needed shut-eye.

While the coronavirus outbreak has forced many people to adjust to a slower pace of life, juggling home-schooling with working out of the kitchen means some are undoubtedly still missing out on the recommended six to nine hours.

A weekend lie-in may be a welcome treat, but French scientists have found it rarely erases the “sleep debt” built up Monday to Friday.

Stress, noise and being glued to our phones means most do not sleep long enough on the weekends to reverse the lack of shut-eye on the days before.

Read more: Should offices have ‘nap pods’?

According to the NHS, most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep a day.

A night of tossing and turning will leave many feeling fatigued, unfocused and irritable the next day. Although unpleasant, an occasional bout of insomnia will not harm your health.

Long-term, however, it has been linked to everything from obesity and high blood pressure to heart disease and diabetes.

“Sleep loss is a potent form of whole body stress,” said Dr Adam Krause from the University of California, Berkeley.

“It impacts function at every level of the body, from DNA, to cells, to organs, to performance at work or exercise.”

Woman looking unhappy at text message, lying in bed in the morning
Being glued to our phone can lead to insufficient shut eye, according to the scientists. (Getty Images)

‘We have to choose healthy sleep’

To uncover whether we generally catch up on sleep on the weekends, scientists from the Public Assistance Hospital of Paris surveyed 12,000 people.

Of the participants, more than a third got by on six hours or less a night midweek.

Nearly a quarter claimed to be getting at least an hour and a half less than they felt they ideally needed, racking up some serious sleep debt.

“Our survey shows about 75% of people with sleep debt did not find their way to get more sleep on the weekend or by napping,” said study author Dr Damien Leger.

“They probably did not take the time to do it or had poor conditions to sleep, [like a] noisy environment, stress or children at home.

Read more: How to sleep with a blocked nose

“So their sleep debt is not recovered.”

On average, the participants got six hours and 42 minutes of sleep midweek, rising to seven hours and 26 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.

The results – published in the journal Sleep Medicine – also revealed more than a quarter (27%) napped at least once during the week, while around a third did so on weekends.

Despite their best efforts, only 18% of the severely sleep-deprived participants banked enough shut-eye to make up for chronic weekday deficiencies, according to the scientists.

Men fared worse, with just 15% balancing their sleep on the weekends.

The scientists blamed night jobs, shift work, long commutes and excessive use of technology, like smartphones.

When it comes to getting enough sleep, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Daytime naps are often a great solution for those who don’t get enough sleep at night, but for those with true insomnia, naps can often make matters worse by reducing the pressure to sleep at night,” said Dr Krause.

“In general, consistency is key.

“I think of this like a healthy diet. It's better to eat healthy for two days a week than not at all, but eating healthy two days a week does not reverse the damage caused by eating poorly for the remaining five days.

Read more: Could 'moon breathing' help you sleep?

“The best sleep diet is one that is sufficient and consistent.”

One expert believes getting enough shut-eye is a choice.

“It is all about priorities,” said Dr Nathaniel Watson from the University of Washington, Seattle. “There are unlimited things to do with our time. We have to choose healthy sleep. It won't just happen.

“Sleeping longer on weekends is a good start, but typically just a day or two of sleep extension does not fully address chronic, habitual sleep deprivation.”

Dr Watson added: “Going to bed when tired and waking when rested, and doing this for two to three weeks, will pay off a sleep debt.”