Heart rate variability based assessments clearly indicate that Finnish employees? stress levels are significantly higher during weekends than during workdays. An analysis of about 2.5 billion heartbeats shows that there is as much as 33% less recovery on Saturdays than for example on Wednesdays.
These results are very much contradictory to the common assumption that we rest and recover during weekends; on the contrary, our bodies seem to be busier than ever then. The results are not explained by a typical pattern of exercising more during weekends; the effect of exercise on analysis results was controlled.
Active free time has a significant role in helping us get our minds off work. It is, however, also crucial to understand that if we keep increasing our stress levels, whether due to positive or negative reasons, we might not be giving our bodies a chance to recover. The requirements of recovery are not dependent on whether our load is positive or negative, or whether the excessive load comes from work or free time.
The results indicate that the level of recovery is significantly lower during weekends when compared to weekdays. Statistically speaking, the odds for the assumed hypothesis that recovery during weekends would be better than during workdays are essentially zero.
We have considered the following explanations behind this result:
- Expectations and activities. Weekend is often packed with activities and high expectations, which is of course not harmful in itself. It is important to create mental distance to work. Nevertheless, we should also allow the physiology to calm down at some point. Too many activities and expectations are a hidden danger.
- Work stress. The results are based on employees in corporate and public sectors. Even if work does not extend to weekends, a stressful week can postpone recovery. A cumulative trend towards poor recovery over the weekend is visible in the results.
- Late nights. During weekends we often stay up late, and this is often combined with consuming alcohol, which has been shown to reduce the quality of recovery significantly.
- Exercise in itself improves well-being, but too much exercise can have a harmful effect on immediate recovery. Despite this, in the big picture, exercise improves our fitness and good fitness helps us to recover more efficiently.
It is also good to remember that even if weekend activities decrease immediate recovery, they may increase recovery after the weekend due to their refreshing effect.
Our biology does not produce an inherent 7-day rhythm, and thus, these results are tied to today?s working Finns. There is, however, one further observation in the database. The analysis also shows that about 13% of the workers have significant, either temporary or longer-term, difficulties in recovery. There is a risk that the situation gets worse if the trend of insufficient recovery continues.
We can also look at the situation in a positive framework. By learning about oneself and recovery, it is possible to make significant improvements in terms of personal well-being, mental energy and resilience. Therefore ? perhaps you should try to take it easy and have a long sleep next weekend to promote your recovery!
Figure 1. Average stress and recovery balance index during day (09 AM ? 5 PM) across weekdays. Results clearly show a decreasing trend, indicating poor balance towards Saturday.
Y-axis measurement unit describes the balance between stress and recovery (at a scale from -100 to +100) calculated based on heart rate variability. Average value over 24h day is roughly from -20 to +20. It is very natural that stress level is higher during day and thus recovery level higher during night. Scale decribes the balance between stress and recovery level and for example effect of exercise to heart rate responses are controlled.
Figure 2. Average stress and recovery balance index during night (12 AM ? 6 AM) across weekdays. Results show clear poor recovery during nights after Friday and Saturday. Recovery is clearly at a higher level during nights form Sunday to Thursday.