Can I make up for lost sleep on the weekend?

Carol Ash, DO
Pulmonary Disease
We create "sleep debt" during the week, which many of us try to make up for by sleeping in on the weekends. In this video, internist and sleep expert Carol Ash, DO, dispels this myth and explains why you can't make up for lost sleep over a weekend. 
Can we catch up over the weekend and, say, sleep in on Sunday morning to make up for those late, late nights during the work week?

No, you can’t just pay off a sleep debt by sleeping late on the weekend. Sorry. The proof? Check out the following studies of late, which have changed some of the conventional thinking of many of us in the world of sleep science:

• Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research examined the cognitive effects of a week of poor sleep, followed by three days of sleeping at least eight hours a night. The scientists found that the “recovery” sleep did not fully reverse declines in performance on a test of reaction times and other psychomotor tasks, especially for subjects who had been forced to sleep only three or five hours a night.

• In a similar study, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that when subjects slept four hours a night over five days, and then “recovered” with eight hours a night over the following week, they still showed slight residual cognitive impairments a week later, even though they reported no sleepiness.

• Another study at Walter Reed found that people recovered much more quickly from a week of poor sleep when it was preceded by a “banking” week that included nights with 10 hours of shuteye.

The good news in this study, and a change from prior thinking, is that it appears you can prepare for an upcoming sleep debt by banking some hours of sleep. In other words, if you know you have a week of little sleep ahead of you, try loading up on sleep beforehand, not simply afterward. However it should be noted that you are likely only paying off a bit of sleep debt, to bring your reserves back to normal, before depleting them again.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
By the time you crawl into bed on Friday evening, you would rather take a hammer to your alarm clock than have it wake you up on Saturday morning. But when you sleep in too late on Saturday, you find you’re more tired and groggy than ever. Here's how to catch up on sleep the right way:
  • Set a normal wakeup time. Sleeping in significantly later than usual can cause sleep jetlag. Just like when you jet set between different time zones, your body’s natural sleep cycle (called the circadian rhythm) is thrown off. To fight feeling like you’ve just flown back from Asia come Monday morning, force yourself to wake up at the same time each day.
  • Nap in the afternoon. Naps aren’t just for the kids -- a 20-minute daytime snooze is the perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep without overdoing it. Your power nap will leave you refreshed for the afternoon without feeling like a zombie on Monday morning.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast every day. It’s normal to wake up and still feel worn out from your long week. Fight the fatigue by starting your day off with a good breakfast. Get extra motivation by making a different dish than the rest of the week. You’ll rev your metabolism and start your day off right. A high-fiber cereal with a banana for potassium and 1% (or soy) milk is a good start. It’s the most important meal of the day -- and you’re making the simple commitment to eat it every day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.