My dear friend says I’m the most sleep-deprived person she knows, and that it’s been that way every year since college.
As one of the people who probably found me sleeping in the freshman study lounge, my nose on a tedious philosophy book, she would know.
I realize she’s probably spot on when I start to tick off the things people tease me about over the years:
- Classmates in college used to mimic my “head bob” during certain afternoon classes in which it was particularly difficult to stay focused on the conversation.
- I once stretched in a child’s pose on my bed after a full day’s work teaching third graders and woke up two hours later. I would not recommend that position for sleeping, by the way, as you cannot move your hips at all when you awaken and will get a bit panicky wondering how you’re going to get off the bed!
- My husband always kids me about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert where I fell asleep during my first pregnancy.
- When we returned to visit our college church with our new baby and he slept in his carseat all through Mass, the priest joked afterward: “Just like his mother!”
- We were talking in my family recently about how I felt sick during the first part of my pregnancy with our little girl, moreso than the boys, and I defined it as really, really tired. That same little girl, now six, immediately came back with, “But Mommy, you’re always tired!“
So we’ve established that I have some terrible sleep habits and am always overtired. How’s a girl supposed to catch up?
You Can’t Always Get What You Want…
I love sleeping, truly. It may not sound like it when I’m answering emails at one in the morning, but let me tell you, once I’m in bed, I’m a happy girl. It’s pretty hard to get me up in the mornings in fact. Sleeping in is a rare treat as a mother of three, but I embrace it every time…and then usually regret it once it’s noon on a Saturday and I’ve hardly gotten anything done because I’ve only been up a few hours.
I’d always read that you can’t make up sleep, that a few hours extra on the weekend isn’t the same as having regular, sufficient sleep. I was pondering that idea and juxtaposed it in my mind with what my colleague and friend Donielle of Natural Fertility and Wellness had recently told me about and taking cod liver oil: that you can, in fact, “stock up” on Vitamin D and just take a bunch of CLO every few days instead of incorporating it into the daily routine (not always easy).
I probably should have been sleeping, but pondering random thoughts is much more fun, right?
I started wondering what other sorts of healthy things you can and can’t “make up” on the weekends, and the idea for these posts was born (Here’s the companion post, on what supplements you have to take every day vs. stocking up on the weekend).
It’s very humbling to write, because not only did I open it with some very unhealthy truths about your favorite real food blogger, but I’m about to begin the meat of the research with a big ol’ “I was wrong all along” discovery…
Repaying the Sleep Debt
It turns out, much to my heavy eyelids’ great joy, that you CAN actually make up on lost sleep – just not in one huge “sleep until noon” Saturday session.
Best ways to “catch up” on sleep:
- Get an extra hour or two of sleep a night.
- If just a bit of sleep deprivation happens on weekdays, a few extra hours on a Saturday may just do it.
- Regular naps are the very best long term – but a 15-20 minute nap after a night of poor sleep also showed positive effects on alertness in a study, and even 5 minutes can have attention benefits. Some cultures normally split sleep into about 6 hours at night and 90 minutes or so in the afternoon, which is a research-based way to get sufficient rest. Naps of 30-60 minutes don’t show great benefits for the long-term.
- You can also “bank” sleep by getting a bunch of extra hours before you chaperone that all-night lock-in, drive overnight to Florida or prepare to give birth with potential through-the-night labor.
- For chronically sleep deprived (preaching to the choir here, obviously), a few months of an extra hour or two a night may be necessary to get into a regular sleep pattern. For me, that ought to take me right up until baby no. 4 comes along and disrupts it all again!
Will Poor Sleep Kill You?
It may be welcome and rather exciting news to know how to make up for some lost sleep, but for those of us chronically sleep-deprived individuals, we probably shouldn’t rest on our 15-minute nap laurels too quickly.
Sleep is important for many areas of health, and “making up” on it will only help a little.
For example, a more well-rested individual deals with stress better throughout the day, and those who are aren’t under a lot of stress tend to fall asleep and stay asleep better, quite the two-edged sword.
Sleep is vital for regeneration, proper digestion, memory, and so much more. The cycles of the liver, surprisingly, play a vital symbiotic role with the body’s need for rest.
The liver goes through its “night” cycle of storing sugars from about 3 p.m. until 3 a.m., with peaks of activity between about 1-3 a.m. If you’re not sleeping during those hours, your liver, metabolism, digestion and overall health can really suffer.
Beyond the liver’s need for sleep, its cycles also determine your tired times – if you’ve ever experienced a “second wind” after 10 or 11 p.m., that’s really your liver reversing its function (since you’re not sleeping when it wants you to anyway) and beginning to convert its stores to energy, its daytime cycle. The unfortunate result of what seems like a boon to your productivity at the time is that you feel worn out the next day because your liver cycles are off and have used some of your daytime energy to keep you up at night. (Phooey.)
So the best bedtime for your liver is likely between 9-10 p.m.
Does “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” Really Make You a Smart, Rich Person?
I was also able to find a handful of sources that confirmed what I’d heard a few years ago, that sleep before midnight is more restorative than sleep after midnight (some say “counts double”). Your willpower and productivity are also typically higher in the earliest morning hours than late at night, so if you can only fit in 5-6 hours of sleep, try getting at least an hour or two before midnight and waking up early to complete your to-do list and see how it goes.
The ironic little twist to an early bedtime is that your REM sleep (the very deep, dream-inducing kind) is more likely to be longer after 3 a.m., and the nonetheless good, deep non-REM sleep is greater earlier in the night. The lesson there? If you can sleep in on the weekends, go for it! Except of course for all the wisdom that says a regular, unchanging bedtime and waking time are the most important of all. (Nothing is easy, is it!?)
What’s your experience with how sleep affects your mood during the day? After reading, might you make a small change in your schedule?
If your weekend mornings are less hectic than the weekdays, you’ll be excited to find out which supplements and vitamins you can cheat on and only take on the weekends rather than trying to remember “one more thing” in the rush of a busy weekday..