Catching Up on Sleep

By: Tana Mardian

Maybe you decided to pull an all-nighter to study for your final. Maybe you stayed up a little too late on a Friday night to go out with some friends and had to wake up early for an eight hour serving shift. Or maybe you were deep in a Netflix-binge sesh and the clock suddenly read 3:00 AM. If any of these situations sound familiar, you’ve definitely contemplated a common question: can you really make up for lost sleep? We’ve all put sleep on the back burner at some point, and we often think, “It’s fine! I’ll catch up on sleep tomorrow!” But can we really “catch up” on sleep?

We know that sleep is an essential component to the body’s ability to function properly; sleep is an integral component to metabolism, immunity, mood regulation and hormones, but unfortunately, sleep deprivation is increasingly common. According to a 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System report, approximately 1 out of 3 Americans have a categorically short sleep duration (less than six hours of sleep per night) (Sheehan et al., 2018). Reduced sleep, however, could have serious effects on health. Inadequate sleep is associated with an increased risk of mortality, as well as metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. An insufficient amount of sleep has also been shown to increase the likelihood of being involved in a motor vehicle accident (Leger et al., 2020). 

There are two main ways that most people make up for lost sleep: either taking a short nap or sleeping for an extended period of time. The data in the field is conflicting on how much we can really “catch up” on sleep after going through a period of shortened sleep. For example, some studies indicate that napping during the day improves memory consolidation, learning, and emotional processing (Mantua & Spencer, 2017). Naps may also improve the neuroendocrine and immunological stress that comes from sleep deprivation (Faraut et al., 2015). Despite these benefits, frequent napping has also been associated with an increased risk of hypertension, microvascular disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, as well as other conditions, especially in older adults. While these examples show some of the negative outcomes associated with napping, there is still room for more evidence on their deleterious effects. (Mantua & Spencer, 2017). Additionally, a study on the sleep habits of 12,637 French adults collected data on the participant’s sleep habits through questionnaires and sleep logs. In their discussion, the researchers note that napping is particularly useful in times of an intense period of work or sport performance. Since shortened sleep is often inevitable at some point in our lives, the investigators emphasize that we shouldn’t just focus on the harmful effects of sleep debt; we also need to provide solutions that are reasonable to implement in the population, and naps could be a solution. Overall, more evidence is needed to make a definitive call, but naps seem to show much promise in their benefits (Leger et al., 2020). 

Could sleeping in on the weekend help with sleep deprivation we experience during the week? Extended weekend sleep may limit the risks associated with a lack of sleep (Åkerstedt et al., 2018). A study from the Journal of Sleep Research followed 43,880 participants for 13 years and found that short sleep on both weekdays and weekends is associated with increased mortality risk. However, they also found that additional hours of sleep on the weekend after a week of inadequate sleep was not associated with an increased risk of mortality. These findings imply that making up for lost sleep during the weekdays by sleeping for longer on the weekends does not increase mortality risk (Åkerstedt et al., 2018). Despite this relationship, there are some inconclusive findings  about the extent to which “catching up” on sleep can help us. In a study from 2019, investigators found that sleeping for longer on the weekend may not prevent the metabolic dysregulation that can come from insufficient sleep. Sleep is essential to our metabolic system, as it regulates our energy intake (i.e. how much food we consume) and our circadian rhythm; if these become dysregulated, it can result in weight gain and reduced insulin sensitivity. The study found that, after a weekend of ad libitum sleep and then a workweek of insufficient sleep, the participants had increased body weight and energy intake after dinner. They also had reduced insulin sensitivity in both the muscle and liver and disrupted circadian clock timing (Depner et al., 2019). It is essential to note that while type II diabetes is associated with lifestyle choices, sleep deprivation can also have negative effects on the metabolic health of individuals with type I diabetes (Farabi, 2016); this means that these findings regarding metabolic dysregulation may be important for those diagnosed with either type I or type II diabetes. Overall, these studies demonstrate the need for further research on the effects of sleep deprivation as we all navigate our increasingly busy lives and as we try to learn more about chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

While there is much research about sleep, more evidence is needed to assess the impact of sleep debt. As we sit in front of our screens for longer and try to be more and more productive, the issue of sleep and sleep deprivation becomes even more prominent. Sleep is involved in metabolic function, emotional regulation, performance, the process of new memories going into our long-term memory, brain recovery from illness or injury, and learning (Perry et al., 2013), so it is important to remember the physiological effects of that all-nighter study session, late night out with friends, or marathon Netflix night. Just like diet and exercise, sleep is a critical component to our health, and while napping and extended weekend sleep might be helpful in certain situations, you’ll never go wrong with a sufficient, regular sleep schedule. 

Reference List:

Depner, C. M., Melanson, E. L., Eckel, R. H., Snell-Bergeon, J. K., Perreault, L., Bergman, B. C., Higgins, J. A., Guerin, M. K., Stothard, E. R., Morton, S. J., & Wright, K. P. (2019). Ad libitum weekend recovery sleep fails to prevent metabolic dysregulation during a repeating pattern of insufficient sleep and weekend recovery sleep. Current Biology, 29(6). 

Farabi, S. S. (2016). Type 1 diabetes and sleep. Diabetes Spectrum, 29(1), 10–13. 

Faraut, B., Nakib, S., Drogou, C., Elbaz, M., Sauvet, F., De Bandt, J.-P., & Léger, D. (2015). Napping reverses the salivary interleukin-6 and urinary norepinephrine changes induced by sleep restriction. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(3). 

Leger, D., Richard, J.-B., Collin, O., Sauvet, F., & Faraut, B. (2020). Napping and weekend catchup sleep do not fully compensate for high rates of sleep debt and short sleep at a population level (in a representative nationwide sample of 12,637 adults). Sleep Medicine, 74, 278–288. 

Mantua, J., & Spencer, R. M. C. (2017). Exploring the NAP paradox: Are mid-day sleep bouts a friend or foe? Sleep Medicine, 37, 88–97. 

Perry, G. S., Patil, S. P., & Presley-Cantrell, L. R. (2013). Raising awareness of sleep as a healthy behavior. Preventing Chronic Disease, 10. 

Sheehan, C. M., Frochen, S. E., Walsemann, K. M., & Ailshire, J. A. (2018). Are U.S. adults reporting less sleep?: Findings from Sleep duration trends in the National Health Interview Survey, 2004–2017. Sleep, 42(2). 

Åkerstedt, T., Ghilotti, F., Grotta, A., Zhao, H., Adami, H. O., Trolle‐Lagerros, Y., & Bellocco, R. (2019). Sleep duration and mortality – does weekend sleep matter? Journal of Sleep Research, 28(1). 

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