If we're watching our weight and "blow it" on any given day, we're told it's okay because we can make up for it the next day and get back on track. But what about when we lose sleep? Can we catch up over the weekend and, say, sleep in on Sunday morning to make up for those late, late nights during the work week?
I get this question a lot. I think it's because people expect to hear something different from the truth: NO, you can't just pay off a sleep debt by sleeping late on the weekend. Sorry. The proof? Check out the following studies of late, which have changed some of the conventional thinking of many of us in the world of sleep science:
The good news in this latest study, and a change from prior thinking, is that it appears you can prepare for an upcoming sleep debt by banking some hours of sleep. In other words, if you know you have a week of little sleep ahead of you, try loading up on sleep beforehand, not simply afterward. However it should be noted that you are likely only paying off a bit of sleep debt, to bring your reserves back to normal, before depleting them again.
The bad news, of course, is that it's not so easy to pay off a sleep debt in a single night of solid sleep. And the effects of that sleep deprivation can last a lot longer than what you'd imagine. (We all just got an extra hour last a few weeks ago when the time changed. How much better off are you today?)
The lesson: avoid chronic sleep deprivation entirely, and when life gets in the way of that goal, then plan for it. Use weekends to prepare for a long work week rather than trying to make up for them.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
This article on sleep debt is also availabe at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.
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