Sleeping In and Your Health
Saturday mornings are rife with reasons to sleep in. No work schedule to keep, all day to workout, and for some, recovering from a long Friday night. While it feels like a treat, waking at different times between the work week and weekends may be a bad thing, one that could lead to weight gain and other health problems over time. If you need an alarm clock to keep up, you may be suffering from social jet lag. According to Till Roenneberg, Ph.D., a German researcher at the University of Munich likens differing sleep schedules to jet lag saying, “It almost looks as if people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York, and on Monday morning they fly back again.”
Circadian Rhythm vs. Your Social Life
If you have to get to work by 6 am, but naturally wake around 8 or 9 on the weekends you may be in trouble. You’re officially suffering from social jetlag if your natural circadian rhythm differs from your social clock by more than hour, a reality for over 70% of Americans. Roenneberg and colleagues studied the sleep habits of over 65,000 adults and found that those with different weekday and weekend sleep schedules had triple the odds of being overweight. Their study confirms findings from the 2012 Sleep in America Poll showing a large majority of Americans get less sleep during the week and may “catch up” on the weekends. 47% of survey respondents got “sufficient” sleep during the week, while over 66% got more sleep than needed on the weekends. Because your biological clock also regulates energy homeostasis, sleep loss during the week can take a toll and help you pack on the pounds. In fact, the study also found those with a bigger gap between sleep schedules had a higher BMI.
Food Decisions, Appetite, and Sleep
Aside from the increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, not getting enough sleep can cause you to make bad food decisions. Two separate studies of overweight and obese participants found an association between sleep adequacy and healthy food choices. While most people point to workplace experiences for their unhealthy food choices, the study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that adequate sleep supersedes work as a predictor of healthy eating choices including fewer sugary snacks, fewer sugary drinks, and more fruits and vegetables. When it comes to appetite, sleep can help keep you satisfied. Not only is adequate sleep associated with weight loss, the inverse is also true. Lack of sleep plays a double-whammy on hunger hormones according to a University of Chicago study. It lowers the satiety hormone leptin, and also increases appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin. The result is an increase in food intake and hunger which can lead to weight gain.
Treating Social Jetlag
The best way to stave off social jet lag is to go to sleep and wake at the same time everyday. The amount of sleep needed varies by individual. Your chronotype or difference in sleep timing is determined by genetic background, age, sex, and environment including light exposure. Less than 7 hours of sleep puts you at risk for major health problems, but an adequate amount is up to 8 hours a night. If you have sleep debt, that is sleep lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings and the like, you may need more shuteye. To get back on track, start by exposing your body to bright light in the morning and avoiding it in the evening. Screen time, including cell phone, TV, and computer use, should also be avoided within an hour of bedtime.
What obstacles keep you from waking and sleeping at the same time everyday? What could you change to balance your sleep schedule between weekdays and the weekend?