According to sleep medicine specialists, although it is possible to sleep in on weekends in an attempt to make up for lost slumber, this method of catching up on Zs is not quite as efficient as the myth claims. Oversleeping on days off can make up for a portion of sleep lost, however, the amount of sleep lost versus the amount of sleep recovered are unlikely to be the same.
People who have lost only a few hours of sleep — around five or so hours over the course of a week — have a greater chance of recovering their lost slumber than those who have missed out on more than 20 hours. For most, it’s possible to bounce back from a sleep deficit due to the body’s own sleep recovery system. While the body naturally does its best to recover the deep REM sleep, and in a desire to hit the deep sleep stages, it may skip other sleep stages that could be helpful in regaining the missing hours. For this reason, it’s not always possible for us to recover all lost sleep.
How much sleep is enough?
Despite the fact that many aspects of sleep are individual — for example, why some people need seven hours of sleep while others require 12 — the median average of eight hours of quality sleep in a night is a good starting point. Although some manage to get by on a few hours of sleep (two to four hours), the average person will begin showing signs of impairment within a night or two.
Aside from being tired and mentally impaired, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the body by reducing glucose tolerance and increasing the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, stroke and obesity. Getting too much or too little sleep affects long-term health and lifespan.
Reasons to get more sleep
Hypertension: One night of inadequate sleep for people with hypertension leads to elevated blood pressure. According to Harvard studies, this rise in blood pressure provides a link between poor sleep, stroke and cardiovascular disease, especially in women. Women not getting enough sleep (less than six hours) or women sleeping too much (more than nine hours) had an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Moodiness: One sleeplessness night is enough to cause the average person to become irritable. Chronic sleeplessness can lead to long-term mood disorders such as anxiety, mental exhaustion, depression and mental disorders.
Obesity: Insufficient sleep — people who get less than six hours a night — is linked with weight gain. Studies show that sleep deprived people tend to have higher body mass index than people who get eight hours of sleep. Not getting enough sleep upsets the hormones associated with energy metabolism, appetite control and glucose processing. The body experiences an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) and ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates appetite) and a decrease in leptin (the hormone that tells the brain you’ve had enough food).
Immune system: When you’re sick it’s natural for the immune system to create sleep inducing factors to ensure adequate rest. Research shows that people who sleep more when they’re sick fight infections better than those who are sleep deprived.
Decreased life expectancy: Getting less than five hours of sleep a night increases the risk of mortality by about 15 percent. Surveys estimate there are between 50 to 70 million sleep-deprived Americans suffering some level of sleep disorder.
To get quality sleep:
Try not to nap for long periods of time during the day. If you must nap, restrict yourself to about 20 minutes.
Implement strict going to bed and getting up times. These times do not need to be written in stone, to-the-minute, but they do need to be very consistent.
When bedtime rolls around, apply a routine that helps you relax, such as listening to music or reading. Watching television, playing video games or surfing the net at bedtime will only stimulate your brain and keep you awake.
Avoiding excessive caffeine throughout the day can help. This includes drinking coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks and even chocolate. Sleep therapists suggest cutting off the caffeine flow by 3 p.m.
Treat sleep as a priority, not as a luxury. Adequate sleep can help avoid the onset of some chronic illnesses.
Clinical director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philip Gehrman points out the formula for determining if you’re getting enough sleep is a simple one, “I often say to my patients that if you don’t feel fully rested during the day, then you need more.”