Experts In This Article
- Jade Wu, PhD, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, sleep advisor at Mattress Firm, and author of Hello Sleep
- Joseph Dzierzewski, PhD, clinical pscyhologist, sleep scientist, and vice president of research and scentific affairs at the National Sleep Foundation
- Shelby Harris, PsyD, clinical psychologist, sleep specialist, and author of The Women’s Guide To Overcoming Insomnia
Earlier in September, a panel of 12 sleep doctors and circadian experts reviewed 63 studies to form a consensus review for sleep best practices1. Their conclusion? The amount of timing and regularity of your sleep matter greatly for health, and that sleeping in for one or two hours on days you’re not working can help you catch up on missed sleep during the work week. Talk about news you can use!
“If you’re not getting the sleep that you need to function optimally during the week, it’s okay to sleep in on the weekend,” says clinical psychologist Joseph Dzierzewski, PhD, vice president of research and scientific affairs at the National Sleep Foundation. “Based on the literature [the panel] reviewed, the people who did had better outcomes than people who maintained an inefficient or insufficient duration of sleep.”
“If you’re not getting the sleep that you need to function optimally during the week, it’s okay to sleep in on the weekend.”—Joseph Dzierzewski, PhD, clinical psychologist and sleep scientist
Previously, sleep experts didn’t advise sleeping in because deviating from a consistent bed time and wake time can confuse the body and make it harder for you to stick to a routine. In this case, the new recommendation to sleep in a little bit is a means to alleviate a larger issue—the fact that people don’t get enough sleep at all.
While the timing of your sleep is extremely important, you’re not exactly starting from a place of strength if you’re consistently getting less than seven hours. Sleeping in slightly can help remedy that. “Sometimes going off schedule by a couple of hours is less disruptive than persistently not getting enough sleep,” says sleep psychologist Jade Wu, PhD, author of Hello Sleep and sleep advisor for Mattress Firm. “The emphasis here is on regularity, which we’ve known is important for sleep and circadian health, but getting enough sleep is also important and many people don’t have a choice in their work schedule, so the second half of this guideline offers some practical flexibility to allow for catching up on sleep.”
The trick here though, says Dr. Dzierzewski, is to really limit sleeping in to one or two hours. Any more and you risk losing consistency with your sleep and bedtimes, which will make it harder to build a regular sleep routine. Sleeping in extensively may also stick you with social jet lag, or the fatigue that comes from shifting around your sleep and wake times on weekends (typically moving both later).
This recommendation also isn’t an invitation to deprioritize your sleep during the week or to plan to make up for time lost on non-work days routinely. Think of it as a little boost rather than a replacement for a week’s worth of restful nights. “This doesn’t mean going to bed much later on weekends because you’re ‘allowed’ to sleep in,” adds Dr. Wu. She recommends trying to stick to your bedtime as much as possible, and try to rearrange your schedule during the work week to get as much sleep as possible so you’re not relying on your weekend to catch up.
It’s important to note that these recommendations are targeted toward adults who have some issues sleeping, not toward those who have chronic insomnia. According to sleep psychologist Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, sleeping in routinely if you have chronic insomnia can actually make it tougher to get sleep in some cases. If this sounds like you, talk to your doctor for guidance. Below, find four more strategies to help you spend more time in between the sheets.
How to catch up on sleep if you’re not getting enough during the week
1. Set (and keep) a consistent bedtime
Going to bed at the same time helps your body get in a routine that aligns with your circadian rhythm (aka your body’s internal sleep-wake clock) so it knows when to sleep. Keeping a consistent wake time is key to encourage this and “set an anchor,” as Dr. Wu says, but going to be at the same time has an effect here, too.
2. Nap strategically
Supplementing your nighttime sleep with naps can be helpful to bank some extra zzz’s. However, it’s important to nap strategically—try to keep naps to 30 minutes or less. Dr. Harris recommends limiting napping to the early afternoon, for most people no later than 2 p.m., to minimize nighttime disruptions.
3. Shift your bedtime earlier
It’s important to try to keep a consistent bedtime, but you can always shift it earlier to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and prevent yourself from sleeping in more than those extra couple hours. To do this without jolting your body into a new routine, give yourself time to shift gradually until you reach a time that works. “You can go to bed earlier than usual, aiming to catch up on sleep gradually by going to bed between 15 and 30 minutes earlier each night,” says Dr. Harris.
4. Prioritize sleep
Too often, sleep is something that gets shunted aside in favor of other obligations and activities. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but making a concerted effort to get enough restful sleep is one way to be sure it’s a priority. How might you do this? Dr. Dzierzewski says motivating yourself to spend enough time in bed can go a long way. A nighttime routine that gets you excited to spend time in your bed (but not too much) should involve winding down and relaxing so you’re in the state to nod off. Find ways to relax like reading a book or doing a brief meditation like progressive muscle relaxation. Avoid screens and their sleep-hindering blue light too close to bedtime, too. Be sure your sleep environment is conducive to rest, too. Make sure it’s dark (and if it’s not dark enough, wear an eye mask) quiet, and cool (preferably somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees F).
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- Sletten, Tracey L., et al. “The Importance of Sleep Regularity: A Consensus Statement of the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Timing and Variability Panel.” Sleep Health, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2023.07.016. Accessed 19 Sept. 2023.
- Blume, Christine et al. “Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood.” Somnologie : Schlafforschung und Schlafmedizin = Somnology : sleep research and sleep medicine vol. 23,3 (2019): 147-156. doi:10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
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