Published on 1st June 2017


There’s good news for those of us who enjoy a few extra Zzzs after a long week at work – sleeping-in on weekends could help to keep our weight down.

New research published in the journal Sleep1 showed that people who caught up on lost sleep at the weekend had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn’t catch up on sleep. The South Korean study looked at the sleep habits and BMI of over 2,000 people, aged 19-82, taking into account variables such as age, sex and anxiety/mood status. Weekend catch-up sleep was defined as sleeping more hours on weekend nights compared to weekday nights.

The researchers found that people who slept-in on weekends had average BMIs of 22.8, compared with 23.1 for those who didn’t sleep-in, which was a small but statistically meaningful difference.2 Moreover, every additional hour of weekend catch-up sleep was associated with a 0.12kg/m2 reduction in BMI – in other words, the more catch-up sleep, the lower the BMI.

Although these findings may give us good reason to switch off our alarms at the weekend, they shouldn’t be used as a free pass to stay up until the wee hours during the week. Lead author Dr Chang-Ho Yun of the Seoul National University Budang Hospital told Reuters Health: “Weekend sleep extension could be a quick fix to compensate sleep loss over the week but is not an ultimate solution for chronic sleep loss”. He said: “If average sleep duration over the week is far below the optimal amount even with weekend sleep extension, the benefits would likely dissipate”.

The idea that insufficient sleep can contribute to weight gain and other health problems isn’t new. The BBC documentary Sleepless Britain, which aired earlier this year, highlighted the very real problem of sleep deprivation amongst children and teenagers – with particular blame going to their increasing use of technology and lax, modern parenting. [See Worth Watching for more details.] 

It’s not just the younger generation that is failing to reach sleep quotas, either. Many adults need more shut-eye, too. Unfortunately, however, sleep doesn’t always come easy – at least for some of us.

The good news is that there are some things we can do to help promote better sleep habits, such as: switching off all electronic devices, including mobile phones and TVs, an hour before bed – they can be over-stimulating and the bright lights can interfere with our sleep; having a regular and relaxing bedtime routine, taking time to wind down before bed; making the sleep environment as clean and comfortable as possible; practising deep breathing and/or meditation, particularly when stressed; and taking regular exercise throughout the day.

Nutritional therapy practitioner and clinical neuroscientist Miguel Toribio-Mateas also says that some supplements can be helpful when it comes to sleep – the herb Bacopa monnieri, for example, can “help take the edge off things” if anxiety is preventing sleep, and glycine may help improve sleep quality. However, it is recommended that you speak to a qualified nutrition professional to discuss your individual needs before trialling any supplements.

Miguel also points out the need to minimise stimulants like coffee, tea, alcohol or simple sugars after 4pm. “This is common sense, but I’m still surprised to hear how many people with sleep issues still have tea or coffee in the evening,” he said. If you’re very sensitive to the effects of caffeine, it may be necessary to avoid it after midday - or better still, eliminate it completely. 

Also recommended by Miguel is having a low glycaemic load evening meal, saying: “This helps keep blood sugar levels stable during the night, avoiding nocturnal hypoglycaemia [low blood sugar] which can trigger cortisol spikes as an adaptive mechanism, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.” 

Finally, for sleep issues caused by disturbances to your internal body clock (e.g. jet lag, but also chronically disturbed sleep), Miguel says that Montmorency cherry can “help improve sleep quality by providing a natural source of melatonin”, although he points out that some products are very sugary, so sometimes a dehydrate extract or powder is preferred to avoid the potentially disrupting effect of sugar.


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  1. Im HJ, Baek SH, Chu MK et al (2017). Association between weekend catch-up sleep and lower body mass: Population-based study. J Sleep and Sleep Disorders Res, zsx089. [Abstract]