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Published on December 04, 2015

Can you catch up on lost sleep?Can you catch up on lost sleep?

You get up early and work hard at your job throughout the week, while also jamming in household chores, appointments, family and friends, and maybe some late-night TV or laptop gazing. You carve off sleep time just to get it all in. But you’ll catch up on the weekend, right?

Sorry, but those few extra hours of sleep on your days off don’t make it all better, not as far as the toll on your body goes.

A recent article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that people who did not get enough sleep during the work week showed lower levels of high-density or “good” cholesterol, and higher levels of triglycerides, higher insulin resistance and more body fat – despite sleeping late on days off. The authors concluded that irregular sleep patterns and inadequate sleep contribute to development of diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease also known as hardening of the arteries.

The study measured sleep time in 447 adults ages 30 to 54. It compared individuals’ own circadian rhythms – their bodies’ normal sleep patterns – with sleep schedules imposed by work. It did this by contrasting the midpoint of sleep time during the work days with that of sleep time on days off. The University of Pittsburgh researchers termed the amount of time difference between these two “social jetlag,” and found the greater the social jetlag, the higher the associated health risks.

“More and more, science shows you can’t really make up for the time being lost,” said Mir F. Shuttari,MD, a Falmouth pulmonologist.

“This is well-known,” he said, adding that the group of ill effects caused by inadequate sleep has been labeled the “metabolic syndrome.”

Not only does lack of sleep increase risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke, it contributes to “all forms of mortality,” Dr. Shuttari said. People who don’t regularly sleep seven to eight hours every day lose less weight when dieting and also risk infection due to a weakened immune system.

For the harmful effects to occur, people must be consistently sleep-deprived for a long time, possibly a year or two, Dr. Shuttari noted. If a patient cannot get enough sleep at one time, he advises them to nap to get more sleep within the same 24-hour period. But waiting beyond 24 hours to catch up doesn’t work, he said.

In addition to looking at social jetlag, the Pittsburgh study also divided subjects by their natural circadian patterns into two subsets: morning and evening chronotypes. Evening chronotypes like to go to sleep later and wake later than morning chronotypes. They also tend to be more likely to be depressed, overweight, diabetic and hypertensive, wrote researcher Patricia M. Wong.

The researchers concluded that the study’s results “highlight the potential for sleep and circadian-focused interventions in preventative health care.”

Most people recognize the significance of proper diet and exercise in maintaining good health, but “we don’t give the same importance to sleep,” Dr. Shuttari said. “It’s time to start realizing it’s as important.”