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Debunking Sleep Myths: Do You Need Less Sleep As You Age?

Whether you pulled an all-nighter or had an early-morning flight, making up for lost shut-eye is harder to than you think. These tips can help.

Losing out on an hour of sleep here, another hour there, may seem like no big deal. But getting insufficient shut-eye for a few nights in a row takes its toll, causing people to feel groggy and off their game—a situation experts call sleep debt. Unfortunately, catching up on missed sleep can be an arduous task. With smart strategies, though, it’s possible to get your body back on a health sleep schedule.Losing out on an hour of sleep here, another hour there, may seem like no big deal. But getting insufficient shut-eye for a few nights in a row takes its toll, causing people to feel groggy and off their game—a situation experts call sleep debt. Unfortunately, catching up on missed sleep can be an arduous task. With smart strategies, though, it’s possible to get your body back on a health sleep schedule.

Why You Need Sleep 

Most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. While missing an hour once in a while isn’t a big problem, short-changing sleep by an hour every night is more serious. Sleep deprivation is associated with such health concerns as obesity and high blood pressure as well as safety issues, including slower reaction times while driving. A lack of sleep can also contribute to a poor mood, fuzzy focus, and an uneven temperament.

Why Weekends Won’t Work

You might think that you can make up for all the lost shut-eye during the workweek by sleeping in on a weekend. In the (very) short term, this may leave you feeling refreshed, but the sensation is only temporary. After several hours, you’ll likely experience a return to the same sluggishness.

A 7-Day Approach

A better strategy: If you’re behind on your sleep by 10 hours or more, you’ll need to make up that time gradually during the week as well as on the weekend. Plan to add an extra three or four hours of sleep to your schedule the weekend after you’ve accrued sleep debt, followed by tacking on another hour to each night in the week that follows. In practical terms, that means going to bed at 9 or 10 PM on Friday and Saturday nights rather than your usual 11 PM, and sleeping until 8 or 9 AM if you usually get up around 7 AM. During the week, try hitting the sack half an hour earlier than usual, and squeezing in an extra half-hour of sleep in the morning before work. For a more extensive sleep debt, you might even consider taking a week of vacation so you can devote yourself fully to uninterrupted sleep every night.

Adopt Better Sleep Habits

As you work to catch up on your rest, try to incorporate good sleep habits along the way. You may want to invest in a white noise machine or ear plugs to block unwanted sounds; a sleep mask or blackout shades can help control the light in your bedroom. And try to adhere to a consistent bedtime and set your alarm for the same time each morning. Regular exercise, skipping alcohol and caffeine in the evening, and reading a book rather than your iPad before sleep can also make sleep easier.