Can You Ever Catch Up on Sleep?

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Have you ever stayed up late a few nights and thought you could catch up on lost sleep over the weekend? Well, depending on what study you read, you really can't catch up. We checked in with Karen Baker, MD, sleep medicine specialist at AdventHealth, to get the scoop.

What can you do if you're not getting enough ZZZs and what's the toll on your body?

Chronic partial sleep deprivation does take a big toll on our bodies. It can impair your reaction time. It's equivalent to being under the influence of alcohol. We're talking about getting two hours less than normal every night, so chronically this can impair you significantly when it comes to reaction time, judgment and alertness. And, unfortunately, no, you cannot make up for it over the weekend.

The average recommended amount of sleep for adults is 8 hours, but not everyone follows the textbook. Some people are fine on 7 and some need 9 to function normally. 

If you're chronically sleep deprived, it can cause daytime sleepiness and microsleeps where you have a brief moment of drowsiness at a stoplight, for example. Also, you'll have lapses in attention and alertness and the lack of sleep can negatively impact your mood.

Is early to bed, early to rise is important?

Generally, it's ideal but there are people who are more night owls and some are early birds.

What are the long-term side effects? Heart issues, metabolism, diabetes, memory loss?

Certainly, sleep deprivation can lead to sleep apnea. If your sleep is minimal or fragmented it can negatively impact glucose control, can contribute to poor food choices and blood pressure can be impacted.

When your sleep is interrupted, you have increases in blood pressure.

Lack of sleep can have an impact on cortisol levels and sugar levels. In terms of memory, it does impact memory but wouldn't cause a dementia. When you learn things, you normally encode those memories in your brain when you sleep. When sleep is impacted it impairs the retention of information. When someone has very severe sleep apnea, it can lead to confusion.

So, yes, it does impact memory to some degree.

What can you do if you're sleep deprived?

I always start with having good sleep hygiene. However, here are a few additional tips.

  1. Have a very consistent sleep schedule seven days a week. The mistake people make is they vary their sleep schedules a lot. I suggest not varying it by more than an hour. If you want to sleep in a bit, just sleep in an hour.
  2. Have a consistent bedtime routine. Don't use electronics just before going to bed. Dim the lights and have a nice relaxing activity that's the same every night like reading a book for a few minutes or praying. If you find you're lying in bed awake for a significant amount of time generally its best to get up, do a quiet, boring activity and return to bed when drowsy.
  3. Avoid any vigorous activity before bed.
  4. Keep it cool and dark. I generally recommend taking a shower before bed. With your drop in body temperature, it helps the circadian rhythm.
  5. Avoid daytime napping, especially in later afternoon or evening.

What about teens?

Starting at 11 or 12 years old and up to age 19 they still generally need nine hours of sleep. The average teen barely gets seven hours of sleep. It's common that they go to bed late and wake up early for school. They're chronically sleep deprived. And, like I said before, catching up on the weekend never works.

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