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Can You Make Up for Lost Sleep on the Weekends?

Can You Make Up for Lost Sleep on the Weekends?

The answer may surprise you.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s godfather Sirius Black is about to suffer a fate worse than death for a crime he didn’t commit, and Buckbeak—Hagrid’s beloved hippogriff—has (seemingly) been executed. Dumbledore tells Harry and Hermione that by using a time turner to go back two hours, “you will be able to save more than one innocent life tonight.” Spoiler alert: They succeed. But you probably knew that.

For a long time, we thought there was no way to turn back the clock on sleep deprivation by packing in extra hours on following nights. And we know that people who get less than six hours of sleep nightly are more likely to have risk factors for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But evidence is now showing your missed hours of sleep may not be irrevocably damaging after all.

For a study, researchers looked at data on nearly 40,000 people for 13 years and found there was no difference in death rates between people who had less than six to seven hours of sleep nightly during the week, but slept more on the weekends, compared to those who consistently had more than seven hours of sleep per night. So, it turns out, you can catch up on sleep!

Of course, the idea is to keep your body clock on the same healthy schedule seven nights a week. But if, during the week, your kids, exercise, work and play don’t allow for enough ZZZs, you can always catch up on those missed hours of sleep by taking a weekend snooze fest. Doing so will help your body repair. Keep track of your sleeping habits, too, so you can begin to figure out what might be disturbing your sleep cycle. Get started with Sharecare, a free app for iOS and Android.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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