PSA: Yo-Yo Sleep Habits Are Messing With Your Metabolism Just Like Inconsistent Dieting

May 24, 2019

There are no two ways about it: as a collective, we simply aren’t getting enough sleep. With the plight of smartphone use into the early hours, air pollution disrupting our slow-wave shut-eye and pre-sunrise starts to try and get ahead, we are chronically deprived. But it’s all OK, right, because that Sunday lie-in will remedy a week’s worth of insufficient rest? Sorry – unfortunately that just isn’t the case. It turns out that the yo-yo sleep habits so many of us adopt could be doing more harm than good.

For the average millennial, a work week is usually marked by long hours trying to cram it all in and a late night or two, followed by a Sunday lie-in. We wake up earlier than is comfortable, force ourselves to the gym, commute to work in the traffic, work for way longer than the 8 hours we’re supposed to, meet that friend we keep meaning to catch up with for dinner, check emails after sunset, chip away at the side hustle and then finally hit the hay, only to do it all over again the next day. Come Friday, the desire to replace the work with play is so tangible we can taste it, so it’s out with friends for a night on the town, followed by a Saturday running errands and trying to do that hobby we wish we had more time for during the weekday slog. Saturday night might be date night, or that friend’s birthday dinner and Sunday morning rolls around and there’s no way in hell we’re getting up before noon.

Sound familiar? For the average person in my life, at least, this isn’t an unusual synopsis. It might be yours too. But research shows that such an irregular sleep schedule wreaks havoc with our metabolism according to a recent study. Disruption to that all-important circadian rhythm was found to decrease insulin resistance which subsequently causes all kinds of problems.

Scientists compared a control group of volunteers who got eight hours of sleep for 13 nights to two sleep-deprived groups who got just 5 hours a night. One of these groups was allowed to set their own bed times and embrace lie-ins after the first 4 days, while the other group were not.

It was found that those who indulged in lie-ins – even until noon, at times – still did not make up for the hours they had missed during the week. Furthermore, those who did get to lie in had their body clocks thrown into more disarray than those who were simply sleep-deprived but consistent in their sleep and wake times. This had a huge impact on the volunteers’ dietary choices. After three days of controlled calorie intake, volunteers were free to eat what they liked. We know that sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and as predicted, greater calorie consumption was observed amongst the sleep-deprived groups in this study too. By the end of the thirteen-day study period, both sleep-deprived groups gained just shy of 1.5kg (3.3lbs) on average. Moreover, both groups demonstrated a decreased sensitivity to insulin – the vital hormone that regulates our blood sugar levels. It was this that was thought to have driven the volunteers to extra snacking between meals.

It’s common thinking among most of us that those extra few hours of sleep on the weekend will do us good. There’s certainly no harm in trying to get more sleep whenever you can, but studies like this demonstrate the importance of consistency in daily life. While it’s almost impossible for the average person to get 8 hours every night without fail, it should always be the goal and worth prioritizing above almost anything else that’s within your control. Getting enough sleep is vital for all aspects of our wellbeing, from mental health to glorious skin and physical strength. Think of it like your foundation, that without which you can’t be your best self.

Instead of relying on the weekend to make up for that which is lost during the work week, try implementing more of those things that you know you should: turning the phone to flight mode after 9pm (or earlier if you can manage!), ditching the screens as early as possible, incorporating calming essential oils like lavender and ylang ylang into your bedtime routine and most importantly, remembering that it’s about working smarter, not harder. This can only be done when you’re functioning at maximum power on sufficient sleep, so start with that and watch yourself be amazed with how much more you can do in much less time!

Do you have a consistent sleep schedule? What could you do to halt the yo-yo?

Also by Kat: This German Spa Town, aka The World’s First Chronocity, Forebodes A Wellness Revolution

Science Says *This* Is The Key To Happiness—And It’s Not What You’d Guess

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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