Is Catching up on Sleep a Good Idea?

Like many Americans, you probably finding yourself burning the candles at both ends more often than not. Odds are that you promise yourself that you will “catch up” on missed sleep when things settle down. Does that really work, though? Can you actually make up for a lack of quality sleep somehow?

Experts are torn about whether or not you can catch up on missed sleep. The main problem is that sleep is highly individualized. In fact, some studies suggest that your overall ability to get good shuteye has a lot to do with your genes. Still, if you consistently fail to get enough sleep, it’s well worth it to look for ways to overcome the problem — and there are plenty of options.

Feeling Drowsy?

A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation revealed what most of us already know: Americans don’t get enough sleep. While experts recommend an average of eight hours of sleep per night, the survey revealed that Americans only get an average of 6.9 hours per night.

Indeed, 35 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep. If you’re one of them, you’re already familiar with the most common side effects of sleep deprivation, which include the following:

  • “Foggy Brain”: Daytime sleepiness is one of the most common signs that you’re not getting enough sleep.
  • Worsened Vision: A lack of sleep can impair your vision, which is one of the reasons that driving can be so dangerous.
  • Memory Problems: Not getting enough shuteye can make you more forgetful, and this can have far-reaching implications in your life.
  • Insulin Resistance: Missing out on sleep affects how your body releases insulin, which can lead to increase blood-sugar levels and, eventually, diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease: Lack of sleep can cause spikes in blood pressure and inflammation, which are both risk factors for heart disease.
  • Increased Cortisol Levels: If you feel more stressed out when tired, you’re not imagining things. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, tend to rise from a lack of sleep.
  • Impaired Immune Functioning: Without getting regular, consistent sleep, your immune system may falter. This makes you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.
  • Low Sex Drive: Men and women alike see their libidos plummet when running on less sleep than they need.
  • Poor Balance: You are more likely to injure yourself when you don’t get enough sleep because sleep deprivation can throw you off balance and make you likelier to trip and fall.
  • Obesity: Spikes in blood sugar and hormonal fluctuations due to sleep deprivation can trigger overeating. Feeling tired also makes it harder to get regular exercise.

What Do the Experts Say?

Whether you’ve noticed just a few of the symptoms listed above or nearly all of them, odds are that you’d probably like to make up for lost time, catch up on some sleep and feel better. However, experts are torn about whether it’s even possible to “catch up” on missed sleep. What works for one person may not work for the next, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the best recommendations for making up for lost sleep.

Here are some examples:

Reset Your Sleep Pattern

Some experts recommend taking a week or two to gradually reset your sleep cycle. To do so, put away the alarm clock for a while. Wait to go to bed until you’re truly ready to fall asleep. Allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally.

At first, you will feel completely out of it when waking up. Over time, this excessive sleepiness will ease, and you will naturally fall into the sleep pattern that is right for you.

Take Naps

Some people swear by naps, but experts generally agree that they can cause more harm than good. As a short-term solution to sleep deprivation, however, they can work wonders. The trick is taking them at the right time. Aim to nap sometime in early or mid-afternoon. Any later than that could make it difficult for you to settle down at bedtime. Set an alarm for 30 minutes; napping for any longer than that can throw off your sleep cycle.

Go to Bed Earlier

People are often tempted to sleep in later when trying to catch up on lost sleep. However, experts agree that the better strategy is to go to bed earlier. In other words, make up for missed sleep by turning in earlier instead of sleeping in later.

At first, your mind and body may reject the earlier bedtime. Keep consistently getting in to bed at the earlier time, however, and you should eventually start feeling sleepy around that time naturally.

Sleep in on the Weekends

A study by researchers at Penn State University College of Medicine revealed that while sleeping in on the weekend won’t make up for all of the deficits of not sleeping enough, it can help to a moderate degree. Therefore, in a pinch, you might try allowing yourself to sleep in as late as you’d like on the weekend.

Note, however, that this strategy does little to nothing to help with attention and focus, which are two of the most problematic symptoms that sleep-deprived people experience. As a short-term strategy, it may be a way to rejuvenate yourself following periods of poor sleep.

Can You Actually Catch Up on Sleep?

As nice as it would be, experts generally agree that you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to sleep. Sleep debt, the difference between the amount of sleep that you should be getting and the amount that you actually are getting, is an issue that develops slowly over time. Therefore, its effects may seem to suddenly spring up while they’ve actually been developing.

Slept debt can’t be repaid in one fell swoop, but it can be chipped away at over time. If you have noticed the effects of sleep deprivation and want to do something about it, then, it’s important to understand that there’s no easy cure. Rather than sleeping in later, however, train yourself to get to bed earlier. At first, you may not feel tired enough to go to sleep, but your body will gradually adjust. You should also allow yourself some time to wake up without having to rush right out of bed. When paired with other tips for getting a good night’s sleep, like avoiding caffeine late in the day, not eating or exercising right before bed, and even taking melatonin, you’ll be all caught up with your sleep in no time.