To sleep in, or not to sleep in on the weekend? Huh? Why am I even asking this? Isn’t it obvious that we should sleep in every opportunity we get?

The question arises because there were some concerns that trying to correct our lack of sleep by sleeping in on the weekends might actually do more harm than good. Some very short term studies with limited numbers of subjects showed problems with concentration and so on weren’t corrected by sleeping in and may even have been made worse. But you can now rest — or sleep in — assured.

A large study published in the Journal of Sleep Research followed almost 40,000 Swedish adults for up to 13 years. They compared people who always slept 5 hours or less to those who slept 6 to 7 hours a night and found that the risk of dying was 65 per centhigher if you didn’t get those 6 top 7 hours a night. That’s significant and the causes of death ran the gamut so no one disease predominated.

Some other interesting facts from this study:

1. If you slept more than 8 hours a day, seven days a week you had a 25 per cent higher death rate than those who slept 6 to 7 hours, reinforcing the idea that we need some sleep but either too little or too much can be a problem — sort of like Goldilocks.

2. If you slept in on the weekend (actually, the days when you were not working is what they looked at in the study) even though you were short changing your sleep during the other days you erased your increased risk. So, it’s okay and might even be good for you to sleep in on the weekend, or whenever you have a day off, although the best practice is still to sleep 6 to 7 hours a night every day of the week.

3. All this only applied to people under the age of 65. After 65, however long you slept didn’t seem to make a difference.

I don’t know about you but to me this is excellent news. Many, if not most of us, are sleep deprived. If we can improve our risks by sleeping in, I’m all for it.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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