If your typical sleeping pattern consists of early morning weekday workouts and happy hours that go a little too late, followed by weekends spent in bed until noon, we have some good news. Recent research shows that crashing for longer over the weekend appears to counteract the increased risk of diabetes that comes with workweek sleep debt.
Going a few nights without enough sleep (four to five hours per night) can increase the risk of developing diabetes by about 16 percent; that's comparable to the increase in diabetes risk caused by being obese. But a recent University of Chicago study shows that two nights of extended sleep (AKA your weekend catch-up) counteracts that risk.
The study was done on 19 healthy young men who were studied after four nights of regular sleep (an average of 8.5 hours in bed), four nights of sleep deprivation (an average of 4.5 hours in bed), and two nights of extended sleep (an average of 9.7 hours in bed). Throughout the study, researchers measured the guys' insulin sensitivity (the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar) and the disposition index (a predictor of diabetes risk).
After a few nights of sleep deprivation, the subjects' insulin sensitivity decreased by 23 percent and their diabetes risk increased by 16 percent. Once they hit the snooze button and logged more hours in the sack, both levels returned to normal.
While it's totally okay to take advantage of these perks after a hard week of work, it's not the best idea to follow this sleep sched on the reg (try these tips for better sleep). "This was only 1 cycle of sleep loss," says Josiane Broussard, Ph.D., an assistant research professor in Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of the study. "It is not known if you could recover with extra sleep on the weekends if this cycle is repeated day in and day out."
Broussard also noted that their study was done on healthy young men, and that older or unhealthy people may not be able to recover as quickly. And of course, an increased diabetes risk isn't the only thing to worry about when it comes to skimping on sleep. Previous studies have shown that chronically sleep-deprived people are more likely to develop increased inflammation and high blood pressure and have difficulty concentrating, reasoning, and solving problems. Plus, people who aren't getting enough sleep tend to make up for it in calories—usually with sweet or high-fat foods. (Really. You can get serious food cravings from logging just one fewer hour of sleep.) The people in Broussard's study were kept on a calorie-controlled diet, so eating didn't factor into their diabetes risk. Presumably, it could come into play if they had free rein to eat whatever they wanted in a real world context.
And even if you're young and healthy and make up for lost sleep on the weekend, there's the added issue of totally messing up your circadian rhythm. If you're staying up super late on weekend nights and then sleeping in late, studies show that the disruption from your normal sleeping routine can cause weight gain and symptoms associated with the onset of diabetes.
Your best bet? Try to get as much sleep as possible and keep your schedule fairly consistent. No one will blame you if you cancel Saturday night plans for a date with your bed. (Nom on some of these foods beforehand, and you'll be set.)