This lazy weekend habit may add years to your life

When I was a kid, sleeping late on weekends wasn’t “a thing” in my house. But when we got together for holidays at the old family farmhouse in Pennsylvania, my Uncle Remo (one of Dad’s younger brothers) would stay upstairs in bed long into the day on weekends.

One Sunday, I asked Uncle Remo if he was going to church. He replied he attended the “Church of St. Mattress.”

I had to look through the pantheon of saints back at catholic school to figure that one out! But a new Swedish study made it pretty clear how powerful quality sleep is when it comes to a long, healthy life…

Extra weekend sleep lowers mortality risk

In the new study, researchers analyzed data on the sleeping habits of 43,880 participants in the Swedish National March Cohort. And they cross-referenced it with death rates over a 13-year period.

The researchers placed the men and women into three groups based on weekend sleep patterns. Groups were categorized according to those who slept:

  • Less than six hours per night
  • Six to seven hours
  • Nine hours or more

First, the study confirmed what we generally knew about sleep…

People under 65 years of age who slept for five hours or less on each weekend night were 52 percent more likely to have died than those who got seven hours of sleep on each weekend night.

Interestingly, those who slept five hours or less on weeknights, but seven hours on weekend nights didn’t have a higher risk of death than those who regularly slept seven hours each and every night.

By contrast, those who slept five hours or less every night had a 65 percent higher rate of death. And those who slept more than eight hours each night of the week had a 25 percent higher mortality risk.

These findings suggest that sleeping more hours during the weekend may compensate for staying up late during the week, at least in the under 65 age group. But we need more research about exactly how much compensatory sleep we need.Here’s what I found worked for me during an intense period of my life…

Take it easy on weekends

During the late 1990s, I worked for a large group of more than 2,000 demanding, hypercritical doctors at the antiquated College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Their directive was to fix everything, without changing anything. And, unfortunately, most didn’t know anything about what it really took to manage the finances, operations, and historic resources of this once-venerable institution.

I regularly worked 60- to 80-hour weeks and was on duty at functions and events three evenings per week. I often rose at 4 a.m. to commute from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia a couple times per week.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t getting enough sleep. So, I consulted with a colleague who is an expert in occupational medicine about what to do, since my lack of sleep was entirely work-related.

He advised me to spend one entire day each weekend at home in bed. I didn’t necessarily need to sleep the whole time. I could read, listen to music, watch TV (if it were football season), or look out at the trees and birds. And if I had the energy, I  could go out in the evening.

That practice felt like quite a lifestyle adjustment for the sake of a job. But I did it for my health. And I learned my colleague actually did it as well!

Overall, that practice got me through the rough patch — and I certainly enjoyed spending more time at home. Sometimes I think I’m still in recovery from trying to work for those 2,000 doctors…not just the lack of sleep.

Unfortunately, as important as sleep is, we have relatively little research about it. Especially when it comes to optimal sleep patterns, and the concept of compensatory sleep and recovery.

Of course, I’ll keep you posted as I continue to monitor the available research. In the meantime, aim to get at least eight hours of sleep on weekends, especially if you don’t get enough during the week. And if you’re really burning the midnight oil during the week, try to really shut down for an entire day on the weekend.

Happy snoozing!


“Sleep duration and mortality – Does weekend sleep matter?” Journal of Sleep Research ( 5/22/2018