5 Ways To Catch Up On Sleep Every Weekend (Without Messing With Your Circadian Rhythm)
It's been a long week. Work was taxing, house chores needed to get done, and the stress from it all left you spent. Saturday and Sunday stand out on your desk calendar like beacons of hope, but can a restorative weekend sleep schedule overcome your sleep debt that you've racked up Monday through Friday?
Here's what to know about how it's really possible to "catch up on sleep" over the weekends and how to use off days to your advantage.
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 ŌURA sleep advisor and associate scientist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., 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.
Tips for optimizing your weekend sleep schedule:
- Sleep later but not much later: "You can extend your wake-up time by about an hour without adverse consequences," Robbins tells mindbodygreen. "Give yourself that extra hour of snooze, then try to get out of bed when your alarm clock goes off."
- Take a short nap: Robbins is all for power naps, which she defines as a "20-minute nap in the afternoon." Still, naps can teeter on contradictory because if you take too long of a nap, you might wake up groggy, cranky, and out of sorts. If you are extremely sleepy from a week of subpar snoozing, Robbins says it's OK to shoot for a 90-minute nap, but it's in your best interest not to go overboard.
- Go to bed earlier: They say the early bird catches the worm, and if you're a morning person who loathes missing those early hours of the day, Robbins suggests going to bed an hour earlier rather than sleeping an hour late to help repay sleep debt.
- Upgrade your nighttime routine: Sleep debts have to do with both the amount and quality of sleep you're banking each night, and one way to enhance your snooze time is to enhance your nighttime routine in such a way that you're lulled to sleep. Steps you can take to achieve this include sipping a sleep-inducing tea, like lavender or peppermint; practicing conscious sleep, during which you tune into your body and out of the world around you, with the goal being to reach a deep meditation; and taking a sleep-supporting supplement that activates calming GABA receptors in the brain to promote a sense of calm throughout the body, among others.
- Make your bedroom a sleepytime oasis: How you prep for sleep is called your sleep hygiene, and an integral part of said sleep hygiene is transforming your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. See, the comfier your sleep space, the comfier you'll feel, and the more inclined you are to fall asleep, stay asleep, and have sweet dreams. Some ways to accomplish this include eliminating blue light from your bedroom at least an hour before bedtime (think smartphones, iPads, laptops, etc.) as the emission can hinder your circadian rhythm; drowning out any noise pollution with a sound machine; and lowering the temperature in your bedroom to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
While it's tempting to sleep in on the weekends, sleep experts say that your bedtimes and wake-up 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.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.