Is there any truth to the myth: "Can you catch up on sleep?"

Is there any truth to the myth: "Can you catch up on sleep?"

There are many different reasons why we might not get enough sleep at night: work-related stress, a newborn baby or even a wild night out on the town. Many people think to themselves, “No problem, I’ll just make it up over the weekend!” But can they?

By now, everyone knows that lack of sleep or sleep deprivation is harmful to our health. But can the sleep deficit we accrue over the week really be made up by sleeping in over the weekend? According to a study from the University of Colorado, no, it can’t.


How many hours of sleep are optimal?

Most articles written on the best length of sleep say that seven hours of sleep per night is generally recommended. Even 20 minutes less sleep can affect our performance and memory. Not only does lack of sleep diminish our performance, but we also lose our concentration and are put in a bad mood more easily. However, too much sleep is also not recommended, as it leads to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.

A study on optimal sleep duration performed at the University of California, San Diego, found that subjects who slept for about seven hours per night had a lower mortality rate than those who slept less per night. Getting at least seven hours of sleep per night was also associated with improved cognitive abilities. Thus, after seven hours of sleep, the subjects were able to learn better, orient themselves better and were also more creative. After more than eight hours of sleep, their performance decreased.


How our age affects the amount of sleep we need

Of course, seven hours of sleep isn’t right for every age group. Babies require much more sleep so that their brain can develop and process the events which transpired that day. In contrast, people over the age of 65 can manage with just five to six hours of sleep per night. Primary school children should get nine to eleven hours of sleep and teenagers eight to ten hours.

Sufficient sleep is especially important for schoolchildren, because the brain stores and processes the things they’ve learned during sleep. Teenagers go through many hormonal changes during puberty and should therefore get more sleep than adults. The recommended length of seven hours is therefore only for adults between the ages of 18 and 64.


Finding the optimal sleeping time

Experts advise that the amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, because healthy sleep depends on the characteristics of our body. The best way to test how much sleep you need is on vacation, when you don't have to get up at any particular time for a period of at least three days.

In order to do this, you should go to bed when you feel tired and not set an alarm for the next morning; just sleep until you wake up naturally in the morning. As alcohol can affect our sleep cycle and throw off the results of the experiment, it’s best to avoid it for this period. Do this little experiment for at least three days in a row and calculate the number of hours you slept on average. Then try to get this amount of sleep every night in order to wake up refreshed and full of energy.


What happens to our body when we get too little sleep?

Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on our body for a long time. Prolonged lack of sleep can not only have a negative effect on our performance at work, but can also damage our health, which is why we should never underestimate the consequences of sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation leads to concentration problems, in that we often stray from our thoughts and are more easily annoyed by small things. At what point a lack of sleep becomes dangerous varies from person to person, though an increased instance of microsleep is one of the more common consequences of sleep deprivation. In the short term, the body can compensate for lack of sleep, but in the long term the risk of serious health consequences increases.

The following health issues are related to sleep deprivation:

  • Weakened immune system: people who do not sleep enough tend to become ill more often.
  • Reduced performance: lack of sleep has a negative effect on our powers of concentration, our attention span and our creativity.
  • Weight gain and obesity: lack of sleep upsets our hormone balance, leading us to develop a ravenous appetite. This is because our body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that controls our craving for food, when we don’t get enough sleep.
  • Heart attack: Lack of sleep leads to a number of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia. In the worst case, the chronic lack of sleep can even cause a heart attack.
  • Increased stress and headache: Less sleep increases the release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can upset our metabolism and as a result we feel more often stressed and suffer from more headaches.
  • Psychological consequences: Chronic lack of sleep can lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Diabetes: One of the most dangerous consequences of sleep deprivation is diabetes. Those who get less than four hours of sleep per night have a much higher instance of insulin resistance than those who get an adequate amount of sleep. Insulin resistance dramatically increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. At the same time, sleeping more than 8 hours per night is also dangerous.


The Colorado University Experiment

So what about the question “Can you catch up on sleep?” In the University of Colorado experiment, 36 subjects were examined for two weeks in a sleep laboratory. The test persons were divided into two groups: One group was allowed to sleep only four hours per night for three weeks; the other group also slept five hours from Monday to Friday, but was allowed to sleep as long as they wanted on weekends.

The study found that the test persons could hardly make for the sleep deficit by sleeping in on the weekends. Since the test persons often ate snacks or sweets at night, both groups gained more than one kilogram during the experiment.

In addition to the weight gain, however, there was another problem: the subjects’ ability to metabolize sugar decreased dramatically. The changing sleep rhythm stressed the body too much and led to risky metabolism changes. Is it possible to catch up on sleep? According to the study, the answer is no.


What about naps?

Naps taken at the right time and for the right duration have been shown to have a positive effect on our health. For one, numerous studies have found that naps can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, everyone feels a decrease in their performance during the day because it is impossible for the body to function at 100% all the time. At what time in the day this drop in performance occurs depends on the individual person, however.

Early risers usually experience their low between noon and 2 PM, while the performance curve for night owls tends to go down between 4 PM and 6 PM. When our concentration fades, our error rate increases. At this time, it is recommended that we take a nap. However, naps should never exceed half an hour. If you sleep for more than thirty minutes, you reach the deep sleep phase and will have a harder time waking up.

A nap not only prevents the performance slump, but also lowers our stress level. In addition, a nap can improve your mood and boost your creativity. Although the question "can you catch up on sleep" must be answered in the negative, naps may help you to be more productive throughout the day.


Improve sleep quality with products from Zizzz

To get the right amount of sleep, you need to find the right sleeping position and the right bedding. At Zizzz, you can get duvets and pillows made from natural materials, which provide a pleasant sleeping environment, help regulate your body temperature and absorb moisture. At Zizzz, you can find wool duvets, duck down duvets or goose down duvets. We also offer pillows in different sizes with the same fillings. Our down and wool come from ethically-responsible sources and are particularly long-lasting. Our products are biodegradable and we are committed to keeping transportation distances as short as possible to reduce our carbon footprint.

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