Is It Actually Possible To "Catch Up" On Sleep? What Sleep Experts Say
Going to bed early is as much of a guilty pleasure of mine as it is a means of survival. Unfortunately, stress has been affecting my sleep cycle recently. So much so that I'm struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep during the workweek. To make up for my lack of shut-eye, I've gotten into the habit of sleeping obscenely late on the weekends and falling prey to the occasional cat nap on a Saturday afternoon. But despite my efforts, I'm still sleepy, which makes me wonder if it's even possible to "catch up" on sleep once the hours have already ticked away.
Is it possible to catch up on sleep?
According to sleep expert and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., it is possible to catch up on sleep (phew) but not necessarily in the way you might think. Sure, taking a well-timed nap or sleeping in when the opportunity presents itself can be better than nothing, but the most efficient way to get back on track is, well, to get back on track. In other words, to reestablish a sleep routine in which you're getting seven and a half to nine hours of shut-eye per night or however long you need to wake up feeling rested.
With the invention of light bulbs, televisions, the internet, and all the other things that keep us awake and out of sync with natural day-night patterns, Teitelbaum explains that many Americans are not clocking adequate sleep time1.
When you lose out on a good night's sleep, your body is, inevitably, going to feel the effects—think of a wonky appetite, the inability to focus, irritability, etc. If you're consistently losing out on sleep, your body's bound to feel all of the above tenfold. And the more sleep you lose, the higher your "sleep debt"—a loan, Teitelbaum says, that eventually comes due.
How to get your sleep schedule back on track.
Unfortunately, getting rid of your sleep debt isn't the same as paying off your student loan or a mortgage; dollars and cents mean nothing to your circadian rhythm. Rather, certified sleep consultant and founder of Live Love Sleep Kaley Medina says her go-to solution to catching up on sleep is to either have her clients hit the pillow 30 minutes before their normal bedtime or sleep 30 to 60 minutes past their normal waking time for a few days.
"Most of us are on a set schedule in our day (from work or taking the kids to school), and if we shift our circadian rhythm later and wake up at the same time, we will find ourselves getting less sleep, thus accumulating more sleep debt or pressure. Which is exactly what we are trying to avoid," Medina tells mbg. "This [temporary routine] will help to prevent a huge circadian rhythm shift."
Once you've recovered from your sleep debt, Medina says avoiding a future deficit starts by creating a sleep schedule that allows for anywhere between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night, plus at least 30 minutes to an hour of a relaxing wind-down routine before bed. It's also imperative that you maintain healthy sleep hygiene by drowning out disruptive noises with a sound machine, setting your bedroom thermostat between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and shutting down all distracting devices to ensure not only that you're able to fall asleep fast but that you're able to stay asleep throughout the entire night.
When you aren't getting enough sleep, your body will feel the lack of shut-eye. The good news is, it's possible to catch up on sleep by readjusting your schedule. Once you're back on track, the trick to staying rested is to create a bedtime routine that calms your mind, body, and spirit, and a sleep-wake time frame that allows for the quality rest you need.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.