Sleep – We Can’t “Catch Up”

The answer is that we need balance when it comes to sleep.

Actually, that’s the answer to many questions but this question is “Can we catch up on our rest on the weekends?” Unfortunately the answer is ‘no.’

The National Sleep Foundation says there is no magic number for the hours of rest that we need. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Yet Americans are only getting about 6 hours a night during the work week and are trying to catch up on the weekends said a study by Alexandros Vgontzas from Penn State University College of Medicine. Vgontzas looked into the issue of “catching up on sleep” to see if that is enough to rid ourselves of the negative effects of sleep debt.

In the study, 30 healthy adults participated in a 13 day schedule that involved resting in a laboratory. The adults were all normal sleepers and spent the first four days sleeping for 8 hours a night to establish a baseline. The next six nights researchers awakened the participants two hours earlier, allowing only 6 hours of rest. The remaining nights the participants were allowed to sleep up to 10 hours.

Researchers assessed the participants’ health and overall wellness in the following ways:

  • Brain waves were monitored while the participants slept;
  • Blood tests were done to establish levels of Interleukin 6 (inflammation) and cortisol (stress);
  • Participants took objective tests and then were observed to see how fast they fell asleep when allowed to nap. They also answered questionnaires about their levels of sleepiness (cognitive function);
  • Participants pressed a button whenever they saw a dot on the screen (alertness).

Overall, although the participants felt better after the recovery rest, they were not noticeably more alert and did not have increased cognitive function. Stress and inflammation levels did drop after recovery rest, but dropped so far below the baseline that researchers determined that the participants were already sleep deprived prior to beginning the study.

“Two nights of extended recovery sleep may not be sufficient to overcome behavioral alertness deficits resulting from mild sleep restriction,” the authors of the study wrote.

“The long-term effects of a repeated sleep restriction/sleep recovery weekly cycle in human remains unknown.”

For more information on the effects of sleep deprivation:

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