When was the last time you got more than five hours of sleep?
If it was over the weekend, you are part of the majority of college students. Many students don’t get enough sleep during the week, and then try to catch up on that sleep during the weekend.
Many studies, including one conducted at the University of Michigan, showed that 70 to 96 percent of students get fewer than eight hours of sleep per night during the week, and that the average can be even worse for some people pursuing specific majors.
The school week brings daily stresses, assignments and commitments, which means that sleep often becomes a lower priority. When the weekend arrives, many college students hope that by sleeping a few extra hours, they can catch up on the sleep they missed during the week.
Unfortunately, according to Paul Shaw, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, the resolution to catching up on sleep isn’t as simple as it seems.
While many studies and articles about sleep health refer to sleep like a bank, in which all the hours you sleep are cumulative, a new study counters that hypothesis. Results show that trying to catch up on sleep over the weekend won’t bring the benefit that many students desire.
Sleep has been of interest to those involved in physical and mental health ever since researchers found that sleep can affect different aspects of life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, about 35 percent of Americans reported sleeping fewer than seven hours a night, which is the recommended amount for adults. Christopher Depner, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was interested to see whether sleeping more on the weekends would actually have an effect on overall health, and whether it could really make up for lost sleep during the week.
Participants were subjected to one of three different sleep schedules: Some slept eight hours every night, some slept approximately five hours a night and the last group got about five hours during the week and were allowed to sleep as long as they wanted on the weekends.
The group that was able to sleep as much as they wanted during the weekends did end up getting extra sleep, but Depner noted that it was not enough to make up for the sleep that they had lost during the week.
In fact, this cumulative loss of sleep manifested itself in physical ways. Those who slept more on the weekends actually had a loss in liver and muscle cells, which can affect digestion, showing that an irregular sleep cycle can have negative health consequences.
There are other results that counter many of these ideas, such as those found by Peter Liu, a sleep endocrinologist at UCLA, who found that catching up on sleep was good for insulin sensitivity.
As Liu noted, there is still work that needs to be done on this important issue. What seems to be most important is keeping a regular sleep schedule of about seven to nine hours a night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this will ultimately help you feel less tired and help your body return to a regular pattern.
Though this ideal may not be realistic for college students, it is important to know how sleep can affect your body. Extra sleep on the weekend may not be the cure that people are looking for if they don’t sleep enough during the week.
Caitlyn Fick SC ’19 is a chemistry major who enjoys mountains, trees, water and dogs.