People who are sleep-deprived during the week often try to make up for it on weekends. But a new study suggests the tactic may not work. Researchers found that weekday sleep loss had negative effects on people’s metabolism and “catch-up” sleep on the weekend didn’t reverse it. In fact, there were signs that the extra weekend sleep could make matters worse, said senior study author Kenneth Wright, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The bottom line, according to Wright, is that people need to consistently get sufficient sleep.

“If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle,” he said, “that has to include good sleep habits.”

The study, published online in the journal Current Biology, included 36 healthy young adults who were randomly assigned to one of three groups that all spent nine nights in the sleep lab. One group was allowed to sleep for up to 9 hours each night. A second could sleep only 5 hours. The third group was allowed 5 hours of sleep for five days, then a weekend “recovery” period where they could sleep in as late as they wanted; after that, they returned to 5 hours of sleep for two nights.

Researchers found that in both sleep-deprived groups, people lost some of their sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. They also began to eat more at night and gained some weight. The group that was allowed to sleep in on the weekend saw one benefit: There was less late-night eating on those days. However, they went right back to post-dinner munching once they returned to 5-hour nights, and their insulin sensitivity remained impaired. They showed decreased insulin sensitivity in the liver and muscles, specifically. Over time, decreased insulin sensitivity can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Experts recommend adults get 7 or more hours of sleep each night for the sake of their overall health. Yet, studies show that more than one-third of U.S. adults fall short of that goal.

What are the ‘sleep stealers’ in your life?” Wright said. “Are you up late watching TV or on your computer?” Sleep is vital for a range of body processes, not only metabolism.  It can decrease alertness and mental performance, which cannot be erased with a couple of nights of catch-up sleep.

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