You’ve tried to live by the rules when it comes to needed sleep, but going to bed and waking up at the same times every day just isn’t in the cards with your hectic schedule. Unfortunately, many studies have linked an early death with getting fewer than five or six hours per night over time. So, what’s the answer?

You can make up for missed slumber on the weekends and reduce your odds of premature death due to too little sleep during the week if you do it correctly. That’s the reassuring finding of a new study done by psychologist Torbjörn Åkerstedt, PhD, of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

The study: Researchers followed more than 43,000 people of all ages for a period of 13 years. They looked at the effects of many different sleep patterns—consistently getting fewer than five hours of sleep, getting more than nine hours of sleep, and the combination of shorter sleep times during the week and longer sleep times on the weekends—and compared them to a benchmark of getting seven hours on a regular basis.

True to other research, they found that people under age 65 who got five hours or less of sleep every single day of the week had a higher risk of death than those who consistently got seven hours—in this study, a 52% higher risk. Also similar to older studies, people who slept too much—typically nine hours all the time—also had a higher risk of death.

But here’s the twist: Those under 65 who got five hours or less of sleep Sunday night through Thursday night but played catch-up on the weekends with nine hours of sleep Friday and Saturday nights weren’t at any greater risk of dying than people who religiously got their seven hours every night of the week.

Note: For study participants aged 65 and older, weekday and weekend sleep hours did not seem to affect their mortality risk at all.

HOW TO PLAY CATCH-UP

To put this good news to work for you, you need to be consistent about your weekend makeup sleep. But you don’t have to sleep all day long and give up your Saturday or Sunday to do it. Just go to sleep an hour or two earlier and wake up an hour or two later on each weekend day—the exact number depends on how many total hours you need to make up for. Compare how much sleep you got Monday through Friday to the minimum of seven hours per night—or 35 hours in all—that you needed and spread out the difference on the weekend.

Note: Makeup sleep isn’t the long-term answer for sleep problems such as insomnia or trouble staying asleep. First try exercise tips and new products for getting a good night’s sleep. If they don’t help, or help enough, consider talking to a health professional about your sleep troubles. You may even be a good candidate for a sleep study.

Also, realize that as good as catching up on weekends is, it won’t counteract how you’ll feel the morning after a sleep-deprived night during the week…you’ll still experience that fuzzy-headed feeling, fatigue, forgetfulness and poor decision-making that result from not getting enough shuteye.