‘Weekend Catch-Up Sleep’ Can Lower the Risk of a Disorder That Affects 30% of Americans, Says New Study

Updated: Mar. 27, 2024

You have our permission to read this, then go back to bed: New science says a good sleep-in session can brighten your outlook all week long.

You know that advice you hear recommending that you keep the same wakeup time all seven days a week, even on the weekends? It’s almost like those researchers have never dealt with sick kids, late-night deadlines, and pets who understand sunrise as their cue to go outside. This weekend, we have a sunnier message: New science suggests it is perfectly valid, and even healthy, to use that precious weekend downtime to catch up on sleep.

In previous studies, adequate sleep—which clinicians often consider to fall between seven to nine hours—has been shown to improve heart health, lower type-2 diabetes risk, help maintain a healthy weight, and more. But if you’re one of the majority who thinks seven hours sounds like a rare dream, a new study looked at sleep trends among Americans to conclude that a little extra sleep on the weekend can improve the mood of people who experience an emotional slump from lost sleep.

Conducted by researchers associated with the Central South University in China, the study will be published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in June 2024. The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2017–2020 to assess the weekday and weekend differences in sleep habits of 7,719 Americans.

Participants’ sleep habits were then cross-referenced with responses to questions that were developed to uncover symptoms of depression. (Gallup data in 2023 suggested almost 30% of Americans reported ever having experienced depressive symptoms, while 18% were experiencing or being treated for depression at the time of the research.)

The China researchers found that Americans who had shorter sleep duration during the week found some relief from their depressive symptoms when they slept more during the weekend; namely up to two hours. After that, there didn’t seem to be much improvement, and weekend sleep beyond five extra hours seemed to lead to increased reports of depressive symptoms.

The Essential Guide to Deeper Sleep

The groups of people who appeared to generally benefit most from weekend catch-up sleep were males and individuals under 65 years old. Researchers weren’t sure why men saw a unique boost from weekend sleep, but theorized that sleep’s influence on testosterone levels may be a player. “Further research is warranted to investigate the existence of sex difference and elucidate the underlying physiological mechanisms behind it,” they concluded.

The researchers also hinted that people older than 65 may be less subject to sleep disturbances, such as work stress and childcare, that can be addressed with a little weekend catch-up sleep.