“Catching Up” On Sleep

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Snoozing more on weekends isn’t really the solution.

Whether you find yourself staying up late to finish a project for work, order a second glass of wine with friends, or watch late-night TV, it’s easy to miss your bedtime. But even an hour or two of lost sleep every night quickly adds up over the course of a week.

Unfortunately, sleeping in for an hour or two on Saturday and Sunday mornings doesn’t really make up for all that lost time, even if you feel better on Monday in the a.m. All of that sleep deprivation leads to something called “sleep debt”—the difference between the amount of sleep that you need and the amount that you’re actually getting. Have more questions about sleep debt? We answer the most burning ones.

Q: Besides feeling tired, what are the other consequences of sleep debt?

A: The potential short-term, negative effects include a foggy brain, impaired driving, difficulty remembering things, and reduced vision, while potential long-term ramifications include heart disease, obesity, and insulin resistance.

Q: Why isn’t sleeping in on the weekends enough for catching up?

A: Though you may feel more rested on Monday morning, that extra shut-eye doesn’t erase all of the drawbacks from not catching enough zzz’s during the week. While extra weekend sleep does help reduce daytime sleepiness and stress, your ability to focus and pay attention will still be reduced. It can also throw off your internal body clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) and lead to Sunday night insomnia. However, you can eventually bounce back once you’ve adapted to a steady schedule that gets you enough winks.

Q: Can napping help reduce sleep debt?

A: After a sleepless night, a nap the next day can help reverse some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Taking one in the early-to-mid afternoon is best (since a nap later in the day might interfere with falling asleep at bedtime). While are helpful once in a while, they're only short-term solutions. Don’t depend on them regularly to get you back on track. Ultimately, getting enough sleep at night is the answer.

Q: Do napping and sleeping in on weekends have downsides?

A: Yes, eventually they could disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it even harder to fall asleep at night. Though you’ll feel more rested after waking up late on Sunday morning that will make it harder to doze off at bedtime that night, which creates a bad cycle.

Q: Can you ever really catch up on sleep?

A: Yes, you can do that by ultimately getting back on a regular cycle of seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night. It can take days or even weeks for your body to return to a normal pattern. In the meantime, if you’re trying to make up for lost time, go to bed early and wake up at your normal time instead of sleeping in late. To get your circadian rhythm back on track, avoid bright lights before bed and keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Get back on schedule by going to sleep a few minutes earlier every night until you’re back to your regular bedtime. Taking melatonin can also help you doze off at the right time. Also, avoid eating, drinking and exercising right before you hit the hay.