Written by Amy Beecham
As the nights get longer, two sleep experts break down the concept of “sleep debt” and how to overcome it.
If you’re anything like me, you’re well and truly in autumn hibernation mode. While I spent every last second of the summer rejoicing at the opportunity to get dressed up and go out again, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t paying for it now with my energy levels.
For the past week, no matter how many hours I’ve slept, I wake up still feeling like I could go for more. I’ve been making sure to nourish and hydrate my body to help give me a much-needed mood boost, but it hasn’t yet been the fix I’d hoped.
It got me wondering: is it actually possible to “catch up” on sleep? Is a chilled evening or long weekend of R&R actually going to make a difference to my frazzled sleep cycle?
“Sleep isn’t like a bank account where you can save up and then spend it later,” Dr Lindsay Browning, a sleep expert, tells Stylist. “Although you can catch up somewhat and feel better after a weekend lie in or a nap, it is likely that you will need several days and a lot of sleep to fully catch up, and that yourweekend lie in probably won’t be enough sleep to fully catch up.”
Dr Browning explains that many people don’t get enough sleep during the working week resulting in a ‘sleep debt’. “If you need 8 hours sleep, but you only get 6 hours sleep during the working week due to your job and other commitments, after a few days you can have built up a significant sleep debt,” she says.“When we have a sleep debt we are likely to feel low, tired and our daytime functioning can be affected.”
That certainly rings true. While I’ve been making sure to juggle a busy work and social schedule with getting as close to eight hours sleep a night as it allows, it never quite feels like enough.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a typical adult should get between 7-9 hours sleep per day for best health benefits. Ideally this should be every night, rather than made up of 5-6 hours sleep some nights and 10-11 hours other nights, Dr Browning adds.
“Banking” sleep, aka getting in extra rest before a busy period starts so that you can rely on some of the sleep you have ‘banked’, isn’t a great idea, either.
“We shouldn’t be forcing ourselves to sleep, so if you’re already well-rested then staying in bed for a couple of extra hours just to prepare is probably not going to do you any favours at all,” Dr Sophie Bostock previously told Stylist.
This isn’t to say that you should forgo any weekend rest. Dr Browning says there are many benefits to a nap or extra sleep at the weekend, and that they can help you to feel better and improve things like your mood and reaction times.
“Although a weekend lie-in can help, research suggests that you can never fully catch up on lost sleep,” she adds. “When you regularly don’t get enough sleep it affects yourhealth,such as increasing your risk of a heart disease or stroke, diabetes, reduces your immune function and affects your weight. Some of these risks simply can’t be immediately overcome by catching up on sleep at the weekend. Further study suggests that it can take at least four days to recover from only one hour of sleep debt.”
What to do if you keep missing out on sleep
Try as we might, there sometimes just doesn’t feel like enough hours in the day to get all the downtime we know we need. So if you do miss out on sleep due to something like weekday work commitments, Dr Browning saysit’s a good idea to try and rectify your sleeping pattern as soon as possible.
“Wake at the same time every day, use light exposure, get exercise, socialise and do the things you enjoy and then go to bed when you are sleepy and tired,” adds Stephanie Romiszewski, sleep physiologist and director at Sleepyhead Clinic.
Romiszewski also warns of the negative impact of ‘forcing’ yourself to sleep.
“Forcing yourself to sleep can actually make you feel worse and anxious, and lead to inconsistent sleep schedules which is confusing for your body,” she says. “By forcing your body to do things it is not ready for, will usually increase our negative feelings and fears about not sleeping, keeping us up for longer.”
Source: Read Full Article