What’s the Best Way to Catch Up on Lost Sleep?

Can sleeping in on one weekend morning make up for a week of scant rest? New research offers answers…

During this seemingly never-ending recession, we’re all working harder, staying later at the office, and getting up earlier to get things done. As a result, getting a good eight hours’ sleep can be a rare event on a weeknight. The good news? Switching off your alarm clock and sleeping in on the weekend can quickly erase several days’ worth of sleep deprivation, according to a new report. Here’s a quick guide:

So taking a long Saturday morning in bed can be good for me?

Yes it can. Periods of “recovery sleep” can undo the damage caused by a few nights of inadequate sleep, says a report from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and can help you reach your peak levels of awareness and ability to concentrate.

How did doctors come to this conclusion?

Researchers asked 150 volunteers to sleep for only four hours a night for five straight nights, then allowed them one night to sleep for as long as they pleased, or in any case for at least 10 hours. Afterwards, they found the recovery sleep restored the participants’ mental fitness.

How long should I be spending in bed on weekends?

It depends on how sleep-deprived you are. If you are regularly getting only four hours sleep a night, you would need more than ten hours of recovery sleep to regain your peak mental fitness, says Dr. David Dinges, one of the report’s authors. In fact you may need to sleep late on Sunday, too. The lesson, says Dr. Dinges: “Prioritize sleep!”

Is it really that easy to make up for lost sleep?

Not when you’re chronically deprived. A report published in January this year says that extended periods without sleep can lead to “sleep debt” that is harder to undo. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that volunteers on the typical sleep cycle of an on-call doctor — 33 hours awake followed by 10 hours of sleep — gradually suffered slower reaction times after three weeks than they did at one week. “All that lost sleep really was catching up with them,” said Rachael Rettner at LiveScience.