Time to Stop Thinking I Can Catch Up on Sleep

Many of us live – or have lived – by the concept that you can catch up on sleep later. This lets us starve ourselves of sleep for several days because we know we can be gluttonous about it later. Anyone who (grudgingly) wakes up to an alarm clock every weekday and sleeps in on weekends is functioning on this concept.

I have done that very thing for many years. I’d stay up late to get things done and get up early to go to work. After all, I could catch up on sleep on the weekends, right? As it turns out, nope, that’s not a good idea at all.

Research on Trying to Catch Up on Sleep

A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research examined our ability to catch up on sleep on our days off. It questioned the effectiveness of this strategy. It indicated that by being sleep deprived during the week with the intention of catching up on days off comes with health risks. It also fails to bring on some of the top benefits often associated with regular restful sleep.

This means that when all is said and done, while it might feel nice to stay in bed late on weekends, it’s not possible to fully catch up on sleep. Instead, if you spend your weekdays short on sleep, you’re risking the symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include heightened health risks during your work week – especially heart health risks and weight – and even a threat of a shortened life.

New Research Supports Previous Studies

A new study published in the Current Biology journal has only added more evidence to show that you can’t catch up on sleep. Once it’s lost, it’s gone. Extra rest on the weekend can help you to be more well rested on those days, however, it is not enough to make up for consistently lost sleep throughout the week. The research also pointed out that “benefits of weekend recovery sleep are transient.”

It doesn’t take much for lost sleep to impact you. Even an hour – such as from the recent Daylight-Saving Time that affected many of us – can make a difference in sleep deprivation. Even if you lose an hour one day and gain an hour on another, it doesn’t work out the same way it would as if you were saving money in the bank. An hour lost doesn’t equate to an hour gained.

Lost Sleep Isn’t Recovered in the Same Time Span

You can’t catch up on sleep hour by hour. Research indicates that even one hour of lost sleep during the night takes about four nights of adequate rest in order to catch up. When it comes to sleep, math is very complex, and researchers say that a span of two days is simply mathematically impossible when it comes to catching up on lost rest.

The lesson: make sleep a priority every night so catching up won’t be (as) necessary.

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