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Sleeping In: Disguising Sleep Debt’s Detrimental Effects

Michael Hum
Symptoms of sleep debt include grogginess, sleeping in class, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

After a long week of school, you’re ready to kick back and sleep until the sun has traveled halfway through the sky. It sounds like the perfect plan, but dramatically changing your sleep schedule can throw off your natural circadian rhythm, which more often than not, is harmful towards your sleep quality.

According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, teenagers are averaging a meager 7 hours of sleep a night. In comparison, the CDC recommends adolescents sleep 8 to 10 hours. This results in a phenomenon commonly nicknamed “sleep debt.” The extra sleep on weekends might help recharge, but the symptoms of sleep deprivation that occur during the week are still present. When sleeping very few hours, sleep debt can build up quickly, resulting in a loss of concentration, a doubled reaction time, and attention lapses, according to Dr. Michael Breus in the article “Is it Bad to Sleep In on the Weekends?” 

Sleeping in on the weekends further worsens the quality of the little sleep that students actually receive. Students tend to go to bed later and wake up later on the weekends, and it can affect the hours of restful sleep that they receive. Dr. Breus also points out the possibility of having social jet lag (SJL), in which the major contrast between weekday and weekend sleep schedule can result in a discrepancy in sleep patterns and activity. This discrepancy throws off the circadian rhythm of your body, which is an “internal clock” that responds to the light and dark cycles, and is most commonly associated with sleep. As the sun sets, this “clock” tells our body to prepare for sleep, and it wakes us up as the sun rises in the morning. Due to its reliance on light and darkness, a change in sleep patterns, such as sleeping late at night or late into the day, can affect your overall health.

“Your circadian rhythm helps regulate a whole host of biological functions,” said Dr. Breus. “Accordingly, people who get insufficient sleep on a regular basis are more likely to experience weight gain, metabolic dysfunction, and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and inflammation.” 

Rather than helping make up for sleep debt, sleeping in on weekends causes more harm than good. Sleeping later and waking up later results in a delay in other lifestyle patterns, such as meal times. For instance, those who go to sleep later on weekends will eat later in the night, and those who wake up later will eat breakfast later. The changes can result in weight fluctuations, metabolic changes, and other health issues previously mentioned. These potential harms are not worth the extra rest on weekends, when one could avoid them by sleeping a healthy and consistent amount of sleep throughout the week.

A study observed that “SJL associates with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides, which are metabolic risk factors,” stated PubMed Central in “Social Jetlag and Related Risks for Human Health: A Timely Review”. These elevated risk factors are not only attributed to SJL.

“I get about 7 to 8 hours of sleep on average,” said sophomore Hazel Wong, just barely within the range of recommended sleep for teens. Wong supports a consistent sleep schedule, as she personally feels that it keeps her functioning at her best.

“I think maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is beneficial,” said Wong. “It gives me a sense of routine so I won’t be scrambling to get everything ready on a Monday morning.” 

Sleeping in on weekends does not make up for lost sleep during the weekdays. The extra sleep on weekends might seem rewarding and a good way to rest up after a long work week, but it only works to take the edge off of the sleep deprivation that over 60% of American teens experience, according to the Child Mind Institute. Rather than sleeping a copious amount of time on weekends to “make up” for a week of 5 hours of sleep, students shouldn’t have to make up any sleep debt at all.

Sleeping in on the weekends may seem harmless, but it can greatly impact the circadian rhythm, and thus, all other parts of your health. It is important to be attentive towards your own body, and choosing to maintain a healthy and consistent amount of sleep is the optimal choice, as it ensures sleep quality, duration, and promotes a balanced circadian rhythm.


Photo courtesy of MICHAEL HUM

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