The One Habit Everyone Does That Can Really Mess With Your Sleep Cycle


Many of us regard weekends and week days as categorically different things. We may go to bed at 10 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, but from Friday to Sunday, we go out, socialize, watch Netflix till way too late night, and end up sleeping far less — or far more — than we do during the week. And while it's incredible common, the habit can be extremely detrimental to our sleep cycles, and can lead to an issue called "social jet lag," where sleep deprivation due to a disjointed weekly sleeping schedule make us less effective during our waking hours. It's like jet lag you get from traveling — but you don't have to set up an OOO to experience it it.

A study in 2017 found that "social jet lag" creates more issues than you might think. The habit of getting up later and going to bed in the early a.m. on the weekends is widespread, but the researchers behind the study, from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, found that people who tend to maintain this kind of schedule suffer from lower mood, more health issues and more sleep dysfunction than people who maintain a kind of sleep schedule throughout all seven days of the week. Weekends are a human invention (we all remember Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey's incredulity when they were introduced to Britain in the early 20th century), and their disruption isn't built into human biology.

Dr. Mohammad Amin from the Stony Brook Medicine Sleep Disorders Center tells Bustle that it has to do with the body's circadian rhythms. Everybody has a complex system of internal "clocks" that tell you when to wake up and when to sleep, involving hormones, light sensitivity, parts of the brain, and other mechanisms. We're still understanding how circadian rhythms work, but they're what goes haywire in your body when you experience jet lag or severe sleep deprivation. And the behavioral and neurological consequences of a circadian rhythm gone wrong aren't fun.

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Disrupting your sleeping schedule, says Dr. Amin, can lead to "pathological states like insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders". This is why, he says, "sleep experts advise keeping a constant sleep-wake cycle, including on the weekends, to entrain circadian rhythm with our 24 hour day." This may seem catastrophically un-fun for weekend partiers, but he tells Bustle that it can also go the other way: people often sleep poorly during the work week itself and give themselves a serious deficit issue on the weekends.

"Many working men and women report sleeping 6 hours or less during the workweek," Dr Amin tells Bustle. "They develop a state of partial sleep deprivation and debt. This sleep debt needs to be satisfied over the weekend, so we go back to normal homeostasis." Sleep debts from the weekend need to be resolved over the working week, and sleep deprivation while you've been working late at work need to be reset, too.

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Ideally, Dr. Amin says, you should maintain a pretty equal sleep-wake schedule all week round to give your body the most consistent chance to get enough rest. "Always go to bed at the same time during the work-week and on the weekend," he tells Bustle. If not, he says, "this is how you can remedy sleep debt during the work-week on the weekend: don't delay bed time on the weekend. This is a mistake. Do not set your alarm on weekends, just wake up spontaneously in the morning."

Napping, sadly, can exacerbate this cycle as well. "Do not nap on weekends," Dr. Amin tells Bustle, "especially in the afternoon, as it may affect your bedtime, which you want to be always constant."

Keeping yourself in a sleep-wake rhythm over all seven days is your best bet for good quality slumber. "If your sleep is still not refreshing," Dr Amin says, "then there is a quality problem with your sleep and you may need to seek seek medical advice." Everybody deserves a good ZZZ.