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Catching up on Sleep, Can it be Done?

January 16, 2019 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

By Nilong Vyas, MD

There is controversy on whether sleep debt can be repaid or not by ‘catching up on sleep.’ Some believe that one cannot catch up on sleep, once it’s lost, it’s lost. Others believe it’s possible to regain those lost hours if done correctly.

Sleep is oftentimes seen as a luxury that can be fulfilled if and when time allows as there is generally ‘more important things to do.’ However, we are learning from ongoing sleep research that sleep is as essential as eating, breathing, and exercise. It is during sleep that the body, mostly the brain, cleans itself and rids itself of toxins and waste byproducts. When sleep is put on the backburner and cut short, those processes don’t reach completion and can cause serious medical problems down the road.

Many people probably stayed up way past their normal bedtime for NYE. Most of those people, including myself, slept-in the following morning. Although it feels good to do this because one feels better rested, the potential downside is created when bedtime rolls around that night. If one slept-in till noon after a night of partying, it will be more difficult for the body to go to sleep at the normal bedtime that night thus causing the body to stay awake a little later than usual. The next day, when having to set that alarm for 6 a.m. in order to go to work, it will prove to be difficult and again the body will be forced to wake before it is ready to do so. That night, it may be easier for the body to go to sleep secondary to the irregular schedule from the last couple of days. However, it is when those signals are not listened to or responded to and the body is kept awake that the sleep debt can no longer be made up. In order to make up that sleep debt, it is advised to go to bed at an earlier time the night after partying, wake at the normal time of waking and again get to bed at an earlier time than usual or on time. The hours of lost sleep may not entirely be ‘made up’ but the benefits will prevail because of the routine that will be established. When the body catches up on sleep, it can resume its normal functions of cleaning and maintaining homeostasis.

The three things that can happen to one’s body when catching up on sleep can be positive or negative: 1. The body rejuvenates itself and cleans up the waste byproducts thus having a more efficient working system because it repays the debt that was acquired during the week; 2. The body gets put into an irregular daily schedule that causes a misfiring of the chemical and hormonal cycles that becomes hard to recover from leading to more fatigue secondary to acquiring sleep debt during the week and sleeping in on the weekend; 3: there is an increase in memory function and elasticity of the brain once the sleep debt is caught up. The key to not having to make up the sleep is to not create the sleep debt, to begin with. Of course, there will be those moments like New Year’s Eve that will call for a break in the normal sleep routine, but if those nights of sleep deprivation are kept to a minimum, ‘sleeping-in’ won’t have to be called in to recover from that loss.



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