Could ‘sleep bulimia’ be keeping you up? Our snooze expert explains how to prevent it


ALONG with a cooked breakfast, enjoying a lengthy lie-in is a Sunday morning tradition.

It’s a chance to catch up on the sleep you’ve missed throughout the week, where working late hours and burning the candle at both ends take priority over getting a full night of shut-eye.

However experts are now warning that bingeing on sleep at the weekend is unhealthy and can lead to a disorder they have dubbed “sleep bulimia”.

Kat Duff, author of The Secret Life Of Sleep, says: “As a culture we tend to starve ourselves of sleep during the week and binge on it at the weekend.

“We assume that if we don’t get enough sleep we can make up for it by lying in on a Saturday morning.”

Catching up on sleep, Kat says, doesn’t work like that.

If we miss out on a full night’s sleep over five days, you can’t make up for it with a lie-in.

Instead you need extra sleep over the following five days, something which is difficult to do given our hectic lifestyles.

As a result we never fully recover the sleep we have lost.

“This explains why when we sleep in at the weekend we feel great for a few hours after we wake but then we start experiencing symptoms of tiredness again,” she says.

Even if you think you’re not tired you might feel irrationally irritable and unfocused throughout the day.

According to Kat sleep bulimia affects about 40 per cent of the population and that number is rising steadily due to the increasing demands on our time.

“We’re working longer hours than ever before and even bring work home with us at night.

As a culture we tend to starve ourselves of sleep during the week and binge on it at the weekend

Kat Duff, sleep expert

“We feel like we have to be at the top of our game every day and we do far too much.”

Sleep is often an afterthought and something we try to squeeze in when we can.

Even if we do go to bed at a reasonable time having smart phones, tablets and laptops in the bedroom can often prevent you from falling asleep.

These screens all omit a blue light that suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

We are made to feel artificially awake by this blue light even when we are tired and needing to sleep.

How much sleep you need varies from person to person.

“For most people seven to nine hours is optimum.

“Only a very small section of the population could manage on three to four hours as Margaret Thatcher famously did,” says Kat.

Sleep helps build immunity and sustains our physical health and when we regularly miss out we are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

It is also crucial for cognitive function as we form memories while asleep and it is especially important for compounding information.

Furthermore, while we sleep healing and growth hormones are produced and therefore people who get less sleep are in essence accelerating the ageing process.

“The best way to assess if you’re getting enough is if you can wake normally, feel refreshed and ready for the day and you don’t rely on caffeinated drinks.”

Here are some of Kat’s top tips for getting a good night’s kip.


Alarms are tricky because if they pull you out of a deep sleep you can wake up feeling groggy.

If you can, try to set them at the end of a sleep cycle.

A full cycle is 90 minutes long so work out how many cycles of 90 minutes will take you nearest to the time you wish to wake up.

This may vary individually so try it to see what works best for you.

Split your sleep If you struggle to get enough sleep at night try having a few hours in the early evening followed by another few hours later on.

The benefits are the same as sleeping in one larger stretch.


If you’re really tired after work lie down for a little while before getting up to start your evening.

A half-hour nap, including 10 minutes to drop off, is recommended because it allows us to slip into a light sleep and be able to wake up refreshed.

If we go into a deeper sleep we can wake up feeling worse than we did before.

Those who say they don’t nap because it makes them feel groggy are napping for too long.

However if you have enough time then grab a 90-minute nap and you can go all the way through one sleep cycle.


Before bedtime it is useful to put aside the worries that may keep you from sleeping.

One way to do this is to write down everything you need to do the next day so your brain isn’t trying to remember it until morning.


To create a sense of calm while falling asleep think of a pleasant memory.

Pick a time you were really enjoying yourself.

Remember every detail, what you could hear, see and smell.

Doing this provides us with a sensory experience of relaxation, taking our minds off the thoughts that could keep us awake.

Create the right environment Having a sleep during the day is as good as sleeping at night as long as you sleep well and there are ways to adapt your surroundings to ensure this.

Having some kind of white noise on in the background can help to cover up disruptive street noise.

Also invest in black-out curtains to mimic darkness.



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