Can you catch up on lost sleep?


Can I sleep all day Sunday to prepare for Monday?

I often find myself blogging about sleep, as it is one area of health that I find difficult. Once I'm in bed, I'm a great sleeper! However, early mornings and busy evenings mean I don't spend enough time in bed. In the past we have looked at why sleep is so important, how much sleep we need and how to improve your quality of sleep. This week I wanted to find out if it's possible to catch up on lost sleep.

Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting, and the amount you actually get. Sleep debt accumulates over time, with every missed hour adding to the debt. Sleep deprevation results in a number of short term issues such as foggy brain, memory loss and impaired reaction time. Long-term effects include obesity, insulin resistance and heart disease.

Generally, experts recommend eight hours of sleep a night. In a 2016 sleep studyconducted by the Sleep Health Foundation, it was reported that the average sleep time for Australian adults is 7 hours, with 12% of the population having less than 5 1/2  hours and teenagers getting only around 6 hours. It was also reported that inadequate sleep, of either quality or duration, affects 33-45% of Australian adults.

So can we "make up" for lost sleep? The good news is that sleep debt can be repaid, although there is a right way and a wrong way to make it happen.

WRONG WAY: Snooze marathon

Unlike paying off a financial debt, sleep can't be deposited into the bank in one long snooze marathon. Much like exercise and fitness, it takes small, incremental steps over time to get back on track.

Let's use exercise as an example. It's suggested that we exercise at a moderate intensity for around 30 minutes a day. In order to improve your fitness, you need to do this consistently over the week. Sitting at a desk for 6 days in a row then exercising for 3 1/2 hours on Sunday isn't going to be effective (and will most likely leave you waking up Monday exhausted and unable to move!). The same goes with nutrition. You can't eat rubbish all week and then try to pile all of your vegetables in on one day. Your body is not able to work on a cycle that is so extreme.

Sleep works the same way. You can't smash yourself all week only getting 5-6 hours sleep, then try to make up for it with a marathon sleep on Sunday. First of all, many people find it difficult to stay asleep when they have become so used to the shorter sleep cycles. And even if you can sleep, this all-in-one chunk of sleep will not compensate for the hours you have missed consistently over the week.

RIGHT WAY: Repaying in small increments, regularly, over time

Tacking on an extra hour or so of sleep a night is the way to catch up. If you've only accumulated a few days of sleep debt, 2-3 nights of a longer sleep may be enough. However, for the chronically sleep deprived, it may take a few months for the body to recover and get back into an appropriate sleep pattern. Short naps during the day have also been shown to be effective in repaying sleep debt, as long as you are able to get back to sleep in the evening.

Make sure your sleep patterns are sufficient and regular. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day allows your body to find its natural circadian rhythmn, resulting in higher quality sleep. Stay away from things that keep your brain active late at night (i.e. screens), avoid late afternoon coffees and heavy meals before bed. Set yourself up with a good pre-sleep routine that will allow your mind and body to unwind after a busy day.

Like many things related to health and fitness, consistency is key. So focus on getting a good nights sleep, as often as you can, to be at your best every day.

by Angie Black

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Hey! I’m Angie. I’m passionate about fitting exercise into your life, for the rest of your life.