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How sleeping in this weekend may protect against early death

Short sleep is associated with increased mortality. But there is a way to make up for the damage.
by Meghan Holohan / / Source: TODAY
Woman sleeping in bed
Sleeping in on the weekend can help if you are a poor sleeper during the week.Shutterstock

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Go ahead, get some extra sleep this weekend. A recent study shows that sleeping in on weekends might improve the health of people who struggle to get enough during the week.

“Short sleep during both weekdays and weekends are associated with increased mortality. Same for long sleep. But, weekday short sleepers who compensate with long weekend sleep have normal mortality,” Torbjörn Åkerstedt, a senior professor, Karolinska Institute, and an author of the study in the Journal of Sleep Research, told TODAY via email.

Åkerstedt and his colleagues examined the records of 43,880 people over 13 years to see how sleep duration impacted morality rate. Sleeping five hours or less contributed to a higher chance of death. The reason? The body can’t refresh itself without enough sleep.

“Short sleep prevents biological recovery. Without biological recovery the system starts to fail and the risk of ill health is increased,” Åkerstedt said.

But sleeping in on the weekends seems to counteract this.

“It is possible to compensate for lost sleep,” he said.

This might seem confusing to people that have heard that they should go to bed and wake at the same time, even on the weekends. Dr. Harneet Walia said the study resolves one of the most common questions about sleep.

“We are asked this all the time: ‘What if we sleep in on the weekend. Is it OK?’” the doctor in the Sleep Disorder Center at Cleveland Clinic, who wasn’t involved in the research, told TODAY. “Yes, perhaps it might be OK to sleep in because of the positive results. But again more definite data is needed.”

The study also shows that shorter sleep time negatively affects even people younger than 65, offering evidence that sleep remains important at every age.

“It again reinforces that importance of consistent sleep, seven to eight hours,” Walia said.

Another recent study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital finds that using a tablet before bed leads to later bedtimes. While researchers had known that light from tablets causes more wakefulness and suppresses melatonin production, this study revealed that tablets also change behavior.

“Using a light-emitting device right before bed may have biological effects that impact how sleepy we feel, may lead us to stay up later and may even shift the timing of our biological clock,” Jeanne Duffy, neuroscientist in the Division of Circadian Disorders, told TODAY via email.

What does all the research mean for the average person? It’s still important to focus on healthy sleep habits.

What the science says about healthy sleep:

Easing stress for better sleep

The carbs that may actually help you get better sleep

A good night's sleep starts in the morning. Your sleep guide, hour by hour

Avoid screens in bed and protect your eyes

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