‘People who oversleep are more likely to follow poor dietary patterns, exercise less and suffer mental health problems,’ says expert
It’s winter and those weekend lie-ins are tempting. But Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains to Kate Whiting why they can do more harm than good
Let’s face it, most of us could do with getting a bit more sleep, right? Thank goodness for the weekends, when we can snatch a couple more hours of shut-eye (if we’re lucky!), and make up for those missed Zzzzs during the week.
The clocks went back an hour at the weekend and those long, dark mornings make staying in bed even more tempting.
Except, according to many experts, that’s not how it works. In fact, not only does an occasional lie-in not make up for a lack of sleep on other nights, but hitting the ‘snooze’ button could be making things worse, and we’d be far better off waking up at the same time every day, seven days a week.
Why it's all about the routine
“We should aim to stick to a good routine at least most of the time, and the phase before midnight is important,” says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Silentnight sleep expert and author of Tired But Wired: How To Overcome Sleep Problems: The Essential Sleep Toolkit.
And that routine isn’t just about what time our head hits the pillow and we actually close our eyes — what we’re doing in the lead up to bedtime can be important, too, if we’re to properly benefit from a deep, restorative sleep.
“Our circadian timer [the sleep clock in the brain] runs on a rhythm which functions optimally when it works to a regular routine,” Ramlakhan adds.
“This rhythm is influenced by the light/dark levels, which then influence the amount of [sleep hormone] melatonin we produce.
“Too many people in today’s busy world try to work against this rhythm, spending too much time in front of screens. The blue light from the devices and the dopamine-induced alertness both disrupt the clock mechanism.”
How sleep cycles work
We sleep in 90-minute cycles. Each cycle consists of five phases: light sleep, which is phase one and two; deep sleep, which is phase three and four; and REM sleep, which is phase five.
“Phases one and two are the preparation for the deep sleep phases. Deep sleep is what we all need, as it heals body, mind and spirit,” explains Ramlakhan.
“REM sleep is when we dream and sort out our mental ‘filing cabinets’, which is important for learning, memory consolidation and ability to focus and concentrate.”
Should we banish weekend lie-ins?
Of course, routine means, well, sticking to a pattern, and your body clock isn’t going to make allowances for breaking that routine at the weekend.
With this in mind, Ramlakhan does advise that long Sunday morning lie-ins are best avoided. But, she adds, we’d be less reliant on them to help us catch up on energy if we had a good sleep routine in the first place.
Ever wake up shortly before your morning alarm is due to go off? Yet more proof that our brain’s like routine when it comes to successful slumber.
“Getting into regular habits does neurologically programme the mind, making it easier to pre-empt our alarm call,” says Ramlakhan, who notes that too much sleep can be bad for us too, and it’s not just a lack of sleep we need to be careful of.
“It causes sluggishness and fatigue and can also lead to weight gain, digestive problems and other health problems, due to secondary effects,” she explains. “Additionally, people who oversleep are more likely to follow poor dietary patterns, exercise less and even suffer mental health problems.”
To strike the perfect balance, start getting into a sleep routine which involves going to bed well before midnight, rising at a similar time each day and not lazing in bed just because you can.