Your Circadian Rhythm Clock and the 'Weekend Lie-In'
If you Google the phrase "People who sleep in on weekends avoid dying young, study suggests," you'll find 40 to 50 essentially identical articles. All of them are reporting on the same, highly newsworthy study, performed in Sweden and published in May in the Journal of Sleep Research.
So far, so good. All of these articles are reporting on real science, and a real study. However, in this case those news articles have only reported on the most newsworthy part and the bit about the benefits of weekend lie-ins are only showing part of the study and not the full conclusion.
We don’t mean to be a killjoy about weekend lie-ins. When you’ve had poor sleep in the week, a lie-in can be so satisfying and so refreshing… However, they can disrupt your circadian rhythm (more about that later in the article) and make sleep even harder to achieve in the week. So, you essentially end up with a restless week, catching up at the weekend.
Not all reporting on science is…uh…scientific
Back to the article - in this case, the study in question actually didn’t say that all people who sleep in on weekends have a lower risk of dying young. According to study author Torbjorn Akerstedt, director of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University, it said something quite different.
What he and his fellow researchers found was that people who are already sleep-deprived (that is, they regularly get less than seven hours of sleep a night, and often much, much less) and who "catch up" on this sleep debt on weekends have a lower risk of dying young.
The study didn’t suggest that weekend lie-ins are the optimal way to sleep. Yes, sleep is absolutely essential - more so than exercise and a great diet. It is essential to us functioning healthily, yet so many of us struggle to get a decent night’s rest.
We're going to comment on this, because we feel we ought to
Here at The Restored, we feel the need to dispute this plethora of misleading headlines by reminding people of one of the most important facts about sleep science: regular sleep habits are better for you than irregular ones.
In this article, we'll talk about the importance of circadian rhythms, and how important they are. We'll also explain the reasons why, as most respected sleep experts suggest, that maintaining a consistent sleep cycle is much better for your health and happiness.
Explaining the truths (and falsities) in the 'weekend lie-ins will keep you from dying young' articles
People are paying attention to this study for three primary reasons:
- First, it's considered a "strong study" in that it researched the sleep habits of 38,000 people, over a period of 13 years.
- Second, it's one of the only sleep studies so far to note the difference between "weeknight hours of sleep" and "weekend hours of sleep."
- Third and most important, the findings of this study being reported on in the popular press are pure wish fulfilment. They tell people what they want to hear, which is that they can regularly abuse their bodies and get less than seven hours of sleep, and yet somehow avoid all the negative health effects that result from this by "sleeping in" over a few weekends. This just isn't true.
There's a big difference between what the researchers actually found and what is being reported about what they found. People who are regularly sleep-deprived are already impaired in terms of their physical and mental health. "Lying in" on weekends only puts a Band-Aid on that impaired condition; it doesn't eliminate it.
Our view – regular sleep habits are better than 'playing catch-up'
Here at The Restored, one of our favourite sleep scientists is Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. In his best-selling book Why We Sleep, he examines the complex role of sleep in our lives.
Walker feels that sleep is the most important factor for our physical and mental wellbeing – more than exercise, more than diet, and even more than our economic circumstances. And he warns of a "catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic" because we're not getting enough of it.
"Without sleep," he says, "there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health. More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life."
The things that keep us from sleeping, and thus keep us from living longer
Dr. Walker feels that our current sleep crisis – characterised by over 50% of Britons trying to get by on fewer than six hours of sleep a night – is caused by three primary factors.
The first, he says, is that we "electrified the night." Light is the enemy of sleep, in that our bodies don't produce the melatonin we need to sleep properly unless it's sufficiently dark.
A second factor that robs us of quality sleep is shift work that forces many people to work late or even all night. These "unnatural" schedules affect us because we're trying to stay awake at night, when our bodies want to be asleep, and trying to catch up with sleep during the day, when our bodies want to be awake.
These unhealthy schedules even affect young people who don't work all night, because many of them feel compelled to play all night at clubs and bars. No one wants to give up their "entertainment time," so they give up sleep instead.
The third factor that drastically affects sleep, according to Dr. Walker, is anxiety. It, in combination with the effects of alcohol and caffeine, creates a "perfect storm" for bad sleep.
How does Dr. Walker suggest that we get better sleep?
In his book and in interviews, he suggests many ways that we can improve our sleep, and thus our lives. We've passed some of them along in previous articles such as this one on how you can fall asleep naturally.
Many of these sleep tips have one important thing in common – regularity of practice. You don't develop healthy sleep habits by going to bed late one night and early the next. And you certainly don't get enough quality sleep by depriving yourself of it during the week and trying to "catch up" on weekends.
One of the primary reasons this approach doesn't work is that irregular sleep habits don't reflect our natural circadian sleep rhythm.
What is circadian sleep rhythm?
Circadian rhythms affect all living creatures on Earth. Our bodies still long to live the way we did in nature – rising with the sun and going to sleep when it sets. Almost every physiological and behavioural parameter we see in humans follows the same 24-hour (circadian) rhythm. Our sleep cycles are just the most obvious.
As humans, we have an internal 'body clock' that responds to the natural fluctuations of light during the day. We don't want to go to sleep at night out of habit – we get sleepy at night because the brain responds to the lack of light by increasing production of melatonin.
What happens when you don't (or can’t due to insomnia) respect circadian sleep rhythms
Not respecting these 24-hour circadian cycles has many negative effects on our lives. As a 2012 paper in Neurologic Clinics states, "disruption of the endogenous circadian control mechanism or misalignment between internal circadian rhythms with the 24-hour outside environment results in…adverse consequences in sleep and many other aspects of human health, including metabolism dysfunction, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular abnormalities, gastrointestinal and genitourinary dysfunctions."
The "adverse consequences" these scientists are talking about are not merely suffering through the occasional effects of "jet lag." Negative effects of violating the natural circadian rhythms in humans and not getting enough sleep include:
- Reduced intelligence and cognitive skills
- Impaired judgment
- Increased accident risk
- Higher risk of serious illness
- Decreased sex drive
- Premature ageing
- Weight gain
So, what can we do to get more circadian sleep?
Sleep experts have many recommendations for those who want to improve their sleep.
First and foremost, they suggest that you develop a regular sleep schedule, and stick to it. Contrary to the articles we're commenting on, they recommend that you avoid staying up late and sleeping in on weekends. They say this because having a regular schedule is better for both falling asleep easily and feeling better the next day.
Because light significantly affects your sleep cycles, they recommend that you increase your exposure to light during the day and reduce it at night by avoiding TV and computer use before sleeping.
They also recommend that you consider your diet, because what you eat and drink and when you do it can affect your sleep cycles. Naturally, you should avoid alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and eating heavy meals in the evenings, but there are other nutrients that can help you get the quality sleep you need.
How Advanced Night-Time Nutrients helps maintain healthy circadian sleep rhythms
Certain dietary supplements can make it easier to get the healthy sleep you need, especially when employed with a sleep routine.
We believe that one of the best formulations of nutrients can be found in our product, Advanced Night-Time Nutrients.
100% natural, vegan, and gluten-free, our sleep aid formulation contains a full range of ingredients that have made it one of the most effective sleep-aid supplements on the market. These ingredients include:
- Magnesium, to reduce tiredness and fatigue.
- L-Tryptophan, an amino acid that increases production of the chemical serotonin.
- 5-HTP from Griffonia Seed Extract, which also increases serotonin production, has a calming effect on the brain, and helps to reduce anxiety and insomnia.
- Montmorency cherries are high in melatonin, which is critical in regulating healthy sleep and wake cycles.
- Grape skin, also a natural source of melatonin.
- Watermelon, high in tryptophan and a natural source of mood-boosting magnesium.
- Chamomile, which calms the mind and reduces anxiety to promote better sleep.
- L-Taurine, an amino acid that has a naturally calming effect on the nervous system.
- Biotin, a B vitamin which helps maintain a positive, relaxed mood by contributing to normal psychological functions.
The standard recommended dosage of our Advanced Night-Time Nutrients is two 200mg capsules, taken orally before bedtime.
Visit The Restored Blog for more practical guidance to help restore your foundations in sleep, nutrition, movement and mindset.
The information shared in The Restored articles are not intended to replace qualified health care professional advice and are not intended as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition.