Sleeping in on the weekends may feel luxurious, but it's not actually doing your brain any favors, a small new study suggests.
Researchers from Penn State, the University of Crete, the University of Athens and the New York School of Medicine found that after a workweek of little sleep, sleeping in on the weekends doesn't seem to improve the performance of your brain. The findings were first reported by Runner's World.
"The usual practice of extending sleep during the weekend is not adequate in reversing the cumulative effects on cognitive function resulting from mild sleep deprivation," Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, M.D., director of the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State, told Runner's World.
The study, published in the American Journal of Physiology- Endocrinology and Metabolism, involved 30 healthy men and women (average age of 24), who spent 13 nights in a sleep lab. They spent four nights getting a regular night's sleep of eight hours, then spent the next six nights only having six hours of sleep a night. Then, they had the next three nights to over-sleep, getting 10 hours of sleep a night (similar to getting to sleep late over a weekend).
During this time, the researchers were also keeping tabs on the study participants' levels of inflammatory and stress hormones, as well as their sleepiness levels during the day. They also took tests to gauge brain function.
Researchers found that levels of inflammatory and stress hormones went up during the sleep-deprivation period, but then went back to normal with the extra-sleep days. Similar results were seen for sleepiness. However, the brain functioning did not get better with the extra sleep over the last three nights, researchers found.
This is not the first study to investigate the cumulative effect of short sleep patterns. Lost sleep due to late nights, early mornings or a combination thereof is often called "sleep debt," and yes, it accumulates, Scientific American reported. The magazine noted that sleep debt can't be repaid in just one weekend -- it takes time for your body to readjust to getting ample rest -- but it can be repaid with concerted, consistent effort. "Tacking on an extra hour or two of sleep a night is the way to catch up," they wrote.
Of course, the best way to avoid sleep deprivation problems is to just get ample sleep to begin with. Sleep experts recommend getting a set number of hours every night (optimal to your body's needs) and waking up at the same time every day -- yes, even weekends -- to adjust your body to a schedule.