Here's How Weekend "Catch-Up" Sleep Actually Leads to Weight Gain

It also increases your risk for diabetes. Yikes!

Most people know that sleep has a major impact on your mood, your energy levels, and your overall health. But only recently have researchers discovered that a proper night of shut-eye also strongly affects your waistline.

One recent trial found that people who experienced the recommended amount of sleep lost a significant amount of weight, thanks to an increase in metabolic threshold and a decrease in insulin levels. And another study found that a good night of sleep provides a major boost to your maximum oxygen uptake and aerobic performance, enabling you to get a much better workout and burn more calories the following day.

But if you regularly don't get enough sleep on the weekdays and think you can "catch up" on the weekends—think again. A new study published in in the journal Current Biology has found that snoozing in on Saturdays and Sundays can also make you gain weight.

Researchers divided 36 healthy adults aged 18 to 39 into three groups: the first group slept for 9 hours per night for nine nights, the second had only five hours over the same period, and the third group slept five hours per night for five days and then were allowed to sleep for as long as they wanted to on the weekends before going back to a restricted sleep schedule.

The results showed that those who received an insufficient amount of sleep often ended up snacking more at night, leading to weight gain, and also experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which put them at greater risk for diabetes. But they were surprised to find that both of these negative consequences were even more severe for the groups that slept in on weekends than those who only slept five hours every night.

"Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep,"  explained Christopher M. Depner, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory in Colorado and lead author of the study. "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."

The study is limited in its sample size, but notable in that it was conducted in a lab as opposed to self-reported. And while further research needs to be done in order to determine whether recovery sleep can be an effective health countermeasure for people who get too little sleep only occasionally as opposed to all the time, compounding research indicates that "catching up" on sleep on the weekends may not be as healthy as you think.

"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," said Kenneth Wright, the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory and co-author of the study.

Remember: the best thing you can do for your body is get roughly the same amount of sleep every night, regardless of your schedule. And for more on why getting too much sleep is just as bad as getting too little, find out what Science Says Is Officially the Length of a Perfect Night of Sleep.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more