Why Sleeping in on Weekends Could Be Bad for Your Health

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

April 17, 2023


You’ve heard of jet lag. But have you heard of social jet lag?

Jet lag refers to a sudden change in sleep hours after traveling across time zones. Social jet lag refers to going to bed later and waking up later on weekends than on weekdays.

The two are similar — a sudden change in sleep hours. Sleeping in on weekends is a luxury that seemingly would translate to a net positive for health, rather than a negative. But is it?

Sierra B. Forbush, of my alma mater the University of Arizona in Tucson, said the disruption to the body’s natural sleep cycle caused by late-night weekend bedtimes followed by later wake times is not a good habit. Her research is showing that if you’re a weekday early riser, sleeping in on weekends could be hazardous to your health.

The results of her study of over 800 men and women were presented this past month at SLEEP 2017, the joint annual meeting of the American Society of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. It showed that social jet lag was associated with a host of poor health outcomes, including chronic fatigue, poor mood, and even an increased risk for heart disease. Previous studies of social jet lag have associated the habit with a higher risk for substance use, especially smoking, and for obesity.

“Social jet lag ... is caused by social responsibility,” Forbush said. “That could be your school or your work. Many people on weekdays wake up at, say, 7 a.m. to get to work by 8, but on the weekends they want to sleep in. We looked at how that shift affects your health.”

To do the study, Forbush and her colleagues used five different questionnaires. They included 984 men and women between the ages of 24 to 60 years in the study. Their overall health was self-reported as “excellent,” “good,” or “fair/poor.” They also measured the participants’ degree of cardiovascular disease, depression, fatigue, and sleepiness. Here’s what they found.

Social jet lag increased the risk of self-described poorer health, mood disorders, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. Amazingly, each hour of social jet lag is also associated with an 11% increase in the likelihood of heart disease. The effects were independent of total sleep time and insomnia.

According to Forbush, “These results indicate that sleep regularity, beyond sleep duration alone, plays a significant role in our health. This suggests that a regular sleep schedule may be an effective, relatively simple, and inexpensive preventative treatment for heart disease as well as many other health problems.” I think I remember my grandmother telling me, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person both healthy and wise.” Now, it’s official.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults should sleep seven or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. And this study points out that in addition to getting enough sleep, healthy sleep requires appropriate timing and regularity. If you have trouble sleeping, taking supplements such as melatonin (1 mg/lb of body weight), GABA (up to 100-750 mg daily), and valerian root (400 mg daily) can help you get to sleep and give you the full seven-plus hours of sleep you need for good health.

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