Here’s how sleeping in, drinking alcohol, and being lazy over the weekend can affect next week’s sleep.
If you’re among the one-third of Americans who don't catch enough Zzs, you probably don’t need a Sleep Awareness Week to tell you that your sleep bank is showing a deficit. But if you think you can just make up for weekday sleep debts over the weekend, what you might not know is that those habits could actually be wrecking next week’s sleep. “Our bodies try to find patterns,” says Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success ($16, amazon.com). “We usually have somewhat of a routine during the week, but on the weekends, we throw everything to the wind and on Monday morning, it’s extremely difficult to get up early and go to work because you’ve thrown off your normal sleep cycle.” Here, the most common weekend mistakes that can set you up for another week of bleary-eyed zombie hell.
Mistake: You stay up late and sleep in the next day.
When you stay up late and snooze the following morning, you’re essentially producing the same effect as changing time zones and experiencing jet lag, says Jose Colon, M.D., author of The Sleep Diet, A Novel Approach to Insomnia ($16, amazon.com).
Weekend over-sleeping or daytime napping can become what Colon calls “sleep candy.” “You wouldn’t give your kids candy before dinner, because then they won’t have an appetite. Sleeping in really late, taking naps longer than 40 minutes, or ones that are too late in the evening is like ‘sleep candy’ for your body; you’re not going to have an appetite for your regular sleep,” he says. Keep your blinds open so you’re exposed to light in the morning, which signals to your body that it’s time to be awake. And keep your weekend wake-up time within 30 minutes of the time you get up during the week, suggests Stevenson. If you stray far beyond that, you can start to mess up your sleep cycle, he says.
Mistake: You don’t exercise all weekend.
If you don’t get up and do some activity in the morning, especially on the weekend, it can really throw off your sleep cycle, says Stevenson. A study from Appalachian State University in North Carolina showed that morning workouts are ideal if you want to achieve your best quality sleep each night. Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of participants and saw that people who exercised at 7 a.m. slept longer and had a deeper sleep cycle than the other two groups. In fact, the morning exercisers had up to 75 percent more time in the restorative “deep sleep” stage at night. While you might be tempted to skip exercise on the weekend to give yourself a break, your body is looking for its regular pattern. Try to get at least 10 minutes of activity early in the day, Stevenson suggests.
Mistake: You drink too much alcohol.
“Alcohol is a swinging door when it comes to sleep,” says Colon. “There are benefits to moderate alcohol consumption and it’s sedating, but withdrawing from it a few hours later can interrupt your sleep.” In fact, one 2013 research review identified a link between improved time falling asleep and quality of deep sleep earlier in the night—but found that alcohol interrupted REM sleep later in the night.
If you’ve ever woken up with a hangover and felt groggy—even after you think you’ve clocked plenty of hours between the sheets—then you’ve experienced the reduced alertness and performance that science says can come from alcohol-induced sleep disruption. “It’s okay to have wine with dinner, just give your body a few hours to process the alcohol,” Stevenson says.
Mistake: You eat a big meal before bed.
Sunday pasta night, we’re looking at you. Eating too much too close to bedtime can cause GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms, like heartburn and indigestion, which can in turn affect your sleep, Colon says. While a large, carb-heavy meal can make you feel sleepy, as your body later digests those big portions, you can experience insulin fluctuations that could wake you up. “I don’t recommend eating too many carbohydrates in the evening for that reason,” says Colon. Try to keep portions smaller later in the day.
Mistake: You drink your Sunday afternoon coffee too late in the day.
If you slept in and pushed your schedule back a few hours, that subsequent afternoon java could be interfering with your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine is adrenaline producing and counteracts with adenosine, a buildup of metabolic waste in the brain that accumulates throughout the day and contributes to making you feel tired later. When you have caffeine late in the day, you can inhibit that process, leaving you feeling restless—even hours later, Colon explains. While there isn’t a concrete time to stop drinking caffeinated beverages before bed, know that it takes at least six hours for your system to process about half of the caffeine.
Mistake: You binge-watch your favorite shows from your couch or bed for hours on end.
Sure, we’re all guilty of the occasional “lazy Sunday” spent hunkered down in a horizontal position for hours on end—but it could be a reason that it’s tough to fall asleep that night. While you aren’t physically moving, your brain is active all day—and it might continue to stay stimulated come bedtime, Colon explains. In fact, one small study showed that when university students’ television time was restricted, they went to bed earlier and slept longer. (On top of that, all of the artificial light from your devices might throw off your schedule: See the next mistake for more info on that.) Try to be active and get outside a bit during the day to help your body feel more tired at night. The next episode of Orange Is the New Black can wait (promise).
Mistake: You use your laptop, tablet, or smartphone right before bed.
All day long, the light coming into your eyes suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that your body produces to get it ready for sleep. As it gets dark outside, your body produces more melatonin, which is then released into the blood, making you feel less alert, according to The National Sleep Foundation. This is your body’s natural way of getting you ready for sleep. But when you expose your eyes to light from electronics, it can suppress melatonin and affect your sleep drive, says Colon. Researchers suggest avoiding looking at blue light two to three hours before bed.
Mistake: You spend the weekend making all of these blunders and can’t fall asleep on Sunday night.
OK, it’s too late: now what? There are few things as frustrating as being unable to fall asleep on a Sunday night while simultaneously stressing about how tired you’re going to feel on Monday. If you have some time before heading to bed, give your body time to unplug, suggests Stevenson. “A great way to do that is taking a bath in Epsom salts,” he says. (Taking a warm bath can also help your body temperature to drop after the fact—which promotes sleep).
If you’re already in bed and awake, try relaxation techniques or body scan meditations, like those from John Kabat-Zinn, suggests Colon. “By doing deep exhalations, and slowing your respiratory rate, you’re still slowing down your sympathetic stress and kicking in your body’s relaxation response, which has restorative properties, even if you’re not able to fall asleep,” he says. If you listen to a meditation or sleep playlist on a device, place the screen facedown so you’re not exposed to the blue light, and consider setting a sleep timer so it goes off on its own while you’re in snoozeville.