Can You Catch Up on lost Sleep Hours?
Yes, yawns are contagious, but that’s not the main reason we all seem sleepy. In a recent CDC survey, 35 percent of Americans said they get fewer than therecommended seven hours of shut-eye every night. And that’s a big deal considering we need sleep to rest, recharge, reduce stress, and even lose weight.
If you’re the type of person who’s clocking four to five hours of sleep (and probably pounding Red Bulls or cups of coffee) every weeknight, chances are you’ve tried to catch up on sleep by snoozing for a few extra hours on the weekend. But is it really possible to get back those lost zzzs?
Just like student loans, our bodies require regular payments—luckily seven to nine hours of sleep every night will do. If we start to sink below the seven-hour minimum, we fall into sleep debt. Over time, as that debt climbs, it becomes more and more difficult to catch up on sleep.
A few restless nights—what sleep researchers call acute sleep deprivation—is an easy debt to repay. Just snooze for three to four more hours than usual over the weekend, and you should be back on track. It’s much harder to catch up on sleep if you have chronic sleep deprivation—logging fewer than five hours for an extended period of time.
In one study, after sleeping for six hours per night for two weeks, study participants' physical and cognitive abilities were impaired on a level similar to someone who had gone without sleep for two nights straight. But even when they were walking zombies, most people had no idea they were so sleep deprived. That foggy state becomes the scary norm.
It's possible to catch up on sleep if you’ve had a couple of rough nights. But the longer we go without zzzs, the harder it is to get 'em back.