In 1936, Reefer Madness swept America into a mass hysteria
Most adults don’t get enough sleep, which easily qualifies them in the dubious “sleep deprived” category. Sometimes this happens by choice, but oftentimes life interferes with the desire to rest luxuriously under the covers and fade into slumber. Is it possible to make up “sleep debt” by catching up on sleep after a particularly short night of rest?
You may have heard about the National Sleep Foundation’s hilarious adjusted guidelines that prescribe a set amount of sleep hours based upon age. Many people find these numbers unattainable and, quite frankly, depressing. Popular belief holds that humans can make up for too-short nights of sleep by catching up the next evening or even waiting until the weekend. Let’s see how that theory holds up according to the experts.
According to Scientific American, a person carries around “sleep debt” for each hour of sleep missed. The concept is defined as “the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get.” This is a simple concept, and it’s possible to grow a sleep deficit as the sleepless nights rack up. If we lose an hour of sleep every night, that adds up to a sleep deficit of two weeks in a year. As time passes, side effects of sleep deprivation grow more alarming. It starts with foggy brain, increased cortisol levels, faded memory, and impaired driving. In the long term, sleep loss can increase the risk of obesity and heart disease.
Technically, it is possible to repay one’s sleep debt by binging on extra sleep hours. The bad news is that you can’t make up all your sleep debt at once. The most effective way to erase the effects of sleep deprivation is by tacking on an extra hour of rest per night. In extreme cases, it can take months to erase all of a person’s sleep debt. Most people don’t have the luxury of achieving that goal, especially not in the long term.
Forbes published a 2014 study that measured reversal rates for sleep debt. Results were largely positive, and subjects began to erase significant amounts of sleep debt after three or more nights of catch-up rest. Subjects reported feeling better during daytime hours, but their cortisol markers took much more time to approach normal levels. In addition, attention levels didn’t return to their baseline marks after three days of increased rest. Attention levels are an all-important indicator of performance and safety while engaging in risky behavior (like driving a car) while sleep deprived.
The sleep debt theory still stands, but it’s not a simple matter of making up missed hours of sleep and achieving automatic results. The better approach is to limit instances of sleep deprivation. Sadly, this isn’t an option for many people. Let’s sleep on it, shall we?