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Weekend recovery may not counteract cardiovascular impacts of sleep deprivation

Although people often think they can compensate for lack of sleep during weekdays by sleeping in on the weekends, a recent study led by Pennsylvania State University has found that such beliefs are misguided. 

According to the experts, sleep deprivation throughout the week has detrimental effects on cardiovascular health metrics like heart rate and blood pressure and weekend sleep catch-up does not bring these parameters back to their original state.

Focus of the study

“Only 65 percent of adults in the U.S. regularly sleep the recommended seven hours per night, and there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that this lack of sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease in the long term,” said senior author Anne-Marie Chang, an associate professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State. 

“Our research reveals a potential mechanism for this longitudinal relationship, where enough successive hits to your cardiovascular health while you’re young could make your heart more prone to cardiovascular disease in the future.”

For this in-depth study lasting 11 days, the experts selected 15 fit men aged between 20 and 35. The initial three nights permitted them to rest for up to 10 hours, establishing a baseline sleep pattern. 

Over the subsequent five nights, the participants’ sleep was curtailed to five hours, succeeded by a two-night recovery phase where they could again rest up to 10 hours. 

The team measured the participants’ resting heart rates and blood pressure at two-hour intervals daily to assess the cardiovascular impact of this sleep pattern.

Changes in heart rate

Since the researchers recurrently monitored heart rate and blood pressure during each day, they could account for any effects that the time of day might have on these parameters. 

For instance, heart rate is naturally lower immediately after waking than later during the day, so measuring it multiple times throughout the day can account for this difference.

What the researchers discovered 

The analysis revealed that the heart rate increased almost one beat per minute (BPM) daily. Starting with an average 69 BPM, it soared to roughly 78 BPM by the end of the study. 

At the same time, systolic blood pressure increased by about 0.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) daily, from an average initial measurement of 116 mmHg to approximately 119.5 mmHg by the end of the recovery period.

Study implications 

“Both heart rate and systolic blood pressure increased with each successive day and did not return to baseline levels by the end of the recovery period,” said lead author David Reichenberger, a graduate student in Biobehavioral Health at Penn State. 

“So, despite having additional opportunity to rest, by the end of the weekend of the study, their cardiovascular systems still had not recovered.” Thus, recuperating from extended sleep deprivation might require more extended sleep recovery periods.

“Sleep is a biological process, but it’s also a behavioral one and one that we often have a lot of control over,” said Chang. 

“Not only does sleep affect our cardiovascular health, but it also affects our weight, our mental health, our ability to focus and our ability to maintain healthy relationships with others, among many other things. As we learn more and more about the importance of sleep, and how it impacts everything in our lives, my hope is that it will become more of a focus for improving one’s health.”

More about sleep deprivation 

Sleep deprivation refers to the condition of not getting enough sleep. It can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Here are some key points about sleep deprivation:

Effects on the body and mind

Sleep deprivation can lead to mood swings, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, a weakened immune system, and poor decision-making.

Physical health risks

Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a range of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even a shortened life expectancy.

Mental health risks

It can also contribute to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and paranoia.


There are numerous causes for sleep deprivation. It could be due to lifestyle choices, work-related issues, sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, or other medical conditions.

Accidents and injuries

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a higher risk of accidents, especially car crashes. When deprived of sleep, a person’s reaction time can be as slow as someone who is intoxicated.

Cognitive effects

Sleep plays a crucial role in cognitive functions such as memory consolidation. When deprived of sleep, learning and memory can suffer.

Counteracting the effects

While the best remedy for sleep deprivation is getting adequate sleep, certain measures like taking short naps, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bedtime, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help in the interim.

The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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