Catching up on sleep doesn’t reverse damage to the body caused by sleep deprivation, according to a new study. In fact, so-called recovery sleep may make some things worse.
About one of every three adults regularly gets less than seven hours of sleep a night. Over time, lack of sleep can lead to changes in metabolism. These increase the risk for obesity and diabetes.
Some people try to make up for a lack of sleep by sleeping more on their days off. A research team studied this strategy for two weeks in 36 men and women. After three nights of normal sleep, the participants were split into three groups.
The first group slept up to nine hours a night. The second group was allowed a maximum of five hours of sleep a night. The third group had a maximum of five hours a night for five days, but were then allowed to sleep in for two days. They then had two more days of sleep deprivation.
Those who had only five hours of sleep a night gained about 3 pounds on average during the study. They also had a 13% decrease in a key measure of metabolism called insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is the body’s ability to use insulin properly and control blood sugar levels.
Those who had recovery sleep gained about 3 pounds but had a 27% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Their natural body rhythms were also disrupted. They were more likely to wake up during the nights following the period of recovery sleep.
“Catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective strategy to reverse sleep loss-induced disruptions of metabolism,” says Dr. Kenneth Wright, Jr., who led the study at the University of Colorado.