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Having a good lie-in at the weekend might not make up for sleep loss during the working week, research suggests.

Scientists have previously found that a lack of sleep increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. However, it was not clear whether sleeping more on the weekend could balance the books and prevent such an uptick.

Now researchers say the signs are that it does not. Even if people have lie-ins at the weekend after a busy week, they found any benefits are transient, and that by the middle of another working week the body’s metabolism is just as disrupted, if not more so, than if they had not slept in.

Prof Kenneth Wright, co-author of the research from the University of Colorado Boulder, said: “It’s as bad if not worse in some cases.” While he said it is not clear if the practice could offer benefits if only used occasionally or with little sleep loss, the message is one of caution. “This yo-yo of going back and forth between burning the candle [at both ends] and catching up, and burning the candle and catching up, over the long term is probably going to do some harm,” he said.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, Wright and colleagues described how they studied 36 participants who spent 13 nights in the laboratory, the first three nights getting about eight hours sleep.

While eight people were allowed to continue with this pattern for the rest of the study, two groups of 14 people went on to have their sleep deprived, getting just under five hours a night. However, while one group was allowed to indulge in lie-ins and set their own bedtimes after four nights, those in the other group were not. After the weekend, both groups had a further two nights of sleep deprivation before being allowed to recover.

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Vijay Nanda

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