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Can you Catch up on Sleep?


*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*

We have all been there – planning to sleep late on the weekend because we hardly got any sleep during the week. Sometimes life can be all hustle and bustle, and you find yourself going to bed later and later every night but still waking up at your regular time. Some careers require employees to be on-call or flexible regarding their work schedule, making it hard to get adequate sleep.

The dilemma emerges after a person continues to reduce their sleep time every day for a couple of days in a row. The experts call it "sleep debt," formally defined as the difference between the amount of sleep you should get versus the amount you get. The deficit grows every time you skim extra minutes off of your sleep time. Adequate sleep varies from person to person, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night. They also found that 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep, and some may suffer from other health conditions due to sleep deprivation.

Sleep Deprivation Can Negatively Impact Overall Health

Sleep deprivation for short periods can cause many things to go wrong with a person's overall health, and when it happens for an extended period, it can be fatal. How so? According to the Sleep Association, "those that sleep 7-9 hours live longer than those who sleep shorter or even longer. You are 12% more likely to die over a 25-year period if you are not getting enough or too much sleep". Sleep is not overrated; look at the list below that discusses some of the bad things that can happen if you lack sleep.

  • The immune system: Sleep deprivation leads to a weakened immune system, which is needed to fight off viruses and infections.
  • Weight: The amount of sleep a person gets can negatively impact hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness. Insulin level may become imbalanced by lack of sleep, causing increased fat storage and weight gain. Sleep deprivation can eventually lead to an onset of Type II diabetes.
  • The cardiovascular system: Sleep is essential for the heart vessels to heal and rebuild. This ties into processes that regulate blood pressure, sugar levels, and inflammation. The bottom line is too little sleep can lead to heart disease.
  • Hormone levels: Insufficient sleep can affect hormone production. If one goes too long without sleep, it can cause the body to release additional hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol.
  • The brain: Sleep deprivation will negatively impact the brain's part responsible for reasoning, and the amygdala, which deals with emotion. Too little sleep can make it harder for a person to form new memories, affecting learning.
  • Fertility: Poor sleep may impede the production of hormones that help with fertility.

Catching Up on Sleep

The question that is probably on everyone's mind is, "can you catch up on sleep"? The short answer is no. Harvard conducted a study on sleep deprivation and catching up on sleep.  Researchers found that people who reduced their sleep by five hours during the week but made up for it on the weekend with extra rest still had adverse effects. Those negative effects included measurable differences: excess calorie intake after dinner, reduced energy expenditure, increased weight, and detrimental changes in how the body uses insulin.

Researchers at Penn State University College of Medicine also studied the effects of weekend recovery sleep after a week of mild sleep deprivation. They found that extra sleep on the weekends only helped restore some of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. They concluded that six nights of restricted sleep led to deterioration across all health and performance measurements, except one. Two days of rest helped some of the measures but not all.

  • Daytime sleepiness increased after being deprived of sleep for six nights. Two nights of recovery sleep brought levels of daytime sleepiness back up to standard.
  • IL-6 (inflammation marker) rose significantly during the six-night sleep deficit period. Inflammation returned to normal.
  • Cortisol levels did not rise, but after two nights of recovery sleep, cortisol levels dropped below measurements taken during the experiment's beginning. Cortisol levels are connected to sleep duration; the findings suggest that the volunteers were probably already sleep-deprived before the study began.
  • Attention levels dropped during the six days of restricted sleep. Unlike the other measurements, attention performance did NOT return to normal after recovery sleep.  

Makeup sleep may help with some things like reducing daytime sleepiness or reducing inflammation in the body. However, the Penn State study found that attention levels did not return to normal, even after recovery sleep. The hours slept and the intensity of the rest makes a big difference as well. You should feel refreshed after a quality night of sleep, but the refreshing feeling occurs in the deepest part of the sleep cycle. Therefore, one must get a good night of sleep, which usually depends on being comfortable enough to go through the sleep cycles uninterrupted.

10 Tips to Get Better Sleep

  1. It would be best if you tried to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
  2. It would help if you refrained from taking a nap after 3 pm and limit naps to 20 minutes.
  3. Do not drink caffeine or alcohol late in the day.
  4. Stay away from nicotine.
  5. Exercise regularly but not within two hours of bedtime.
  6. Stay away from heavy meals in the early evenings, although a light snack is okay.
  7. You must be comfortable when sleeping, so ensure that the temperature and lighting in your bedroom are perfect for sleep.
  8. Try doing an activity that will help you relax before sleep, like reading a book or listening to music.
  9. If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, try another activity to relax, but it is best not to lie in bed awake.
  10. Some essential oils can relax the body and act as a natural sedative, without the harsh side effects of prescription drugs.


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Written by: Anntonieyo Tabor


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