We’ve all done it — stayed up well past our bedtime, knowing full well that it will cost us dearly in the sleep department. Whether you were trying to meet a deadline for work, cram for a big test or sneak in some precious "me time" while the rest of the family was sound asleep, sacrificing an hour or two of slumber probably didn't seem like a big deal at the time. After all, you can just make up for lost sleep on the weekend, right?
As it turns out, there’s a little more to catching up on your “sleep debt” than hitting the snooze button on Saturday. Keep reading to learn more about sleep debt and why it’s harmful to your health, as well as tips on how to catch up on sleep the right way.
What Is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the amount of sleep you “owe” your body when you don’t get enough nightly slumber. Sleep debt is calculated by subtracting the number of hours of sleep a person needs versus the number of hours they actually get.
For example, let’s say you need seven hours of sleep, but you only manage to get five. In this scenario, you would have a two-hour sleep deficit.
Sleep debt is like real financial debt in that it can accumulate quickly and have serious consequences. But instead of paying back with interest, you could be paying for it with your health.
The Consequences of Carrying Around Sleep Debt
There’s a reason why doctors warn us not to skimp on sleep. Getting the recommended amount of snooze each night — which varies based on factors such as age, health and genetics — is vital for our mental and physical health.
According to the Sleep Foundation, shortchanging yourself on shut-eye negatively impairs brain function, making it harder to process what you’ve learned during the day and retain long-term memories. Moreover, evidence suggests that poor sleep can disrupt your brain’s waste removal process, potentially leading to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Your brain isn’t the only thing negatively impacted by poor sleep. Skimping on your slumber has also been shown to weaken the immune system, cause mood swings and increase your risk of being in a car accident.
Depriving your body of sleep for a prolonged period of time can also increase your risk for a long list of chronic health problems. These include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Psychiatric disorders
Can You Make Up a Sleep Deficit?
Unfortunately, the idea of making up for lost sleep isn’t as simple as it sounds. For one thing, sleep debt can snowball into large amounts rather quickly.
For instance, if you stay up two hours past your bedtime every night of the week, you’ll incur a 10-hour sleep deficit. You could make up for this by sleeping in much later on Saturday and Sunday, but in doing so, you could throw off your sleep schedule and make it that much harder to get to bed at a decent hour.
After two weeks, you’ll have a 20-hour sleep deficit. If you don’t address the underlying problem, this number will grow larger and larger until it’s impossible to catch up.
Furthermore, your body may need a longer recovery time than you might think. In a 2016 study, researchers concluded that it takes four days to make up for one hour of sleep debt. During your recovery period, you may experience moodiness, brain fog, slow reaction time and other common and potentially serious side effects of insufficient sleep.
Catching Up on Sleep Still Comes at a Cost, Research Says
Even if you do manage to catch up on sleep, research suggests that it’s not nearly as beneficial as getting consistently good sleep in the first place. In a study published in Current Biology, researchers found that participants who made up for lost sleep on the weekends still paid for their poor sleep habits in the form of excess calorie intake after dinner, weight gain and reduced insulin sensitivity.
In another study published in PLOS ONE, participants were subjected to 10 days of partial chronic sleep deprivation, followed by a 7-day recovery period. Their results showed that participants recovered their reaction speed, but failed to recoup other measures of function.
The bottom line? Making up for lost sleep can be a useful, short-term strategy, but it’s not a substitute for a consistent sleep schedule.
How to Catch Up on Sleep
Catching up on sleep may not be the best-case scenario, but it’s better than doing nothing. If you’ve been skimping on snooze lately, try these tips to sneak in some extra Zzzs and get your body back on track.
1. Get to the Root of the Problem
The first step to catching up on sleep is to fix the underlying issue. After all, none of the tips below will do you any good if you continue to allow your sleep debt to spiral out of control.
There are many things that can contribute to inadequate sleep. These include:
- Personal choice. Many people don’t value sleep or underestimate its importance, making them more likely to sacrifice their slumber in the name of work or free time.
- Caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it makes you feel more alert. Similarly, alcohol can help you get to sleep faster, but can lead to frequent nighttime awakenings.
- Shift work. Many employees work irregular shifts, making it harder to get the regular snooze they need. If possible, try to avoid frequently rotating shifts and long commutes that take away from your sleep time.
- Electronics. Tempting as it might be to binge-watch Netflix on your tablet or TV, studies have shown that the blue light from these devices can suppress melatonin (the sleep hormone).
- Sleep disorders. Problems such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome can negatively affect sleep quality and duration.
- Other medical conditions. Many medical conditions can contribute to poor sleep, such as asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic pain.
2. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
If possible, try to keep your bedtime and wake-up times consistent — even on the weekends. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day keeps your circadian rhythms in sync, helping to optimize your sleep-wake cycle. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule also helps create patterns and cues that tell your body it’s time for bed, making it easier to fall asleep at an appropriate bedtime.
3. Go to Bed 15 Minutes Earlier
Instead of sleeping in for hours on the weekend and risk throwing your sleep schedule off track, consider going to bed 15 minutes earlier than you normally do. That may not seem like a lot of time, but let’s do the math: 15 x 7 = 105, which means you’ll have gained one hour and 45 minutes of extra slumber after just one week.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep earlier than normal, try cuddling with a top-quality weighted blanket from Gravity Blankets. Whether you experience nighttime anxiety or need additional help winding down for bed, these therapeutic blankets promise to lull you into a state of relaxation with their firm but gentle pressure. Pair it with our cotton weighted blanket duvet cover for extra breathability and comfort!
4. Sleep In Late — But Not Too Late
Another common approach to catching up on snooze is to sleep in later than normal. Most people choose to sleep in on the weekends when they have fewer obligations (and thus, fewer reasons to get out of bed in the morning). However, this approach can easily backfire if you aren’t careful. Sleeping in for too long can push your bedtime back, making it that much harder to wake up on Monday morning.
To avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm, set your alarm for 30-60 minutes later than your weekday wake-up time. That way, your body can benefit from the extra snooze without derailing your sleep schedule.
5. Take a Catnap
Taking a catnap is a great way to sneak in some extra rest and feel more energized throughout the day. Napping offers numerous benefits, including:
- Increase alertness
- Boost memory
- Improve job performance
- Ease stress
- Lift mood
A healthy nap can give you the energy you need to finish the day strong after a poor night’s sleep. However, it’s important to avoid napping for too long or napping too late in the day.
For optimal results, experts recommend scheduling your naps right before lunch (12:30 p.m.) or sometime in the early afternoon (before 2 p.m.). Keep your naps under 20 minutes so you don’t mess up your sleep schedule.
Falling asleep during the day can be tricky, no matter how exhausted you are. If you need help dozing off into dreamland, give our weighted eye mask a try. Designed to lay softly on the eyes, the Gravity weighted eye mask blocks out distracting light and uses the power of deep touch pressure stimulation to lull you to sleep.
6. Keep a Sleep Diary
If you've ever seen your doctor for sleep issues, you may already be familiar with the concept of a sleep diary. These sleep-tracking tools shine a light on your sleep habits, allowing you to identify patterns that may be contributing to your sleep debt.
Everyone fills out a sleep diary a little bit differently. In your sleep diary, consider including the following details:
- When you went to bed
- How easy/hard it was to fall asleep
- How many times you woke up during the night
- Things that disturbed your sleep
- When you got out of bed in the morning
- How you felt when you woke up
- How many hours you slept
- Any other factors that may have affected your sleep (new medications, work shift, menstrual cycle, etc.)
If you’re tech-savvy, you may want to consider investing in a sleep tracker. These wearable trackers have features that track your sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep phases and more, giving you an in-depth look at your slumber habits.
7. Reframe Your Relationship with Sleep
One of the reasons why people carry around so much sleep debt is because we don’t value it. In our fast-paced, productivity-obsessed society, many people view sleep as something that can be traded off for an extra hour or two of work. This attitude of “you snooze, you lose” is pervasive, and it’s slowly killing us.
Instead of wearing sleeplessness like a badge of honor, make sleep a priority in your life. Rather than drinking alcohol or caffeine, choose a tall glass of water with lemon. When Netflix prompts you to watch another episode, hit decline and go to bed on time. Focus on priming your body for bed by taking a warm bath and practicing meditation. Small decisions such as these can have a massive impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep.
Start Getting More Sleep with Gravity Blankets
Catching up on sleep may help protect you against some of the negative long-term health consequences of chronic sleep deprivation. However, most experts agree that the best thing you can do for your health is to start getting better sleep by establishing a consistent sleep schedule.
You don’t have to struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Our weighted blankets use a science-backed method called “deep touch pressure stimulation” to help you unwind from the day and fall into a deeper, more restorative slumber.
Instead of skimping on your snooze, make it a top priority by investing in our best-selling Gravity Weighted Blanket today. You’re going to love the results!
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