During sleep our memories from the day are solidified and our brain does a bit of a clean-up sorting through the things we need to hold onto and discard from the day. We also get the rest we need to ensure we can function properly the following day.
But not all of us manage to get eight hours sleep per night, and might miss out on some of these benefits. So we asked five experts if it’s possible to catch up on missed sleep later.
Three out of five experts said yes.
Yes – Chin Moi Chow, Sleep research.
We can catch up on sleep but not on the exact number of hours lost. Catching up on sleep is essential, since sleep is a biological necessity. The body has only one way of dealing with lost sleep. With acute sleep loss, sleep pressure increases and we cannot resist sleep. We dive into a long, deep sleep when a sleep opportunity arises (such as extended sleep on weekends).
In this recovery, we make up deep sleep. But we have lost the opportunity to transform unstable memories into the more stable form. And a single extended sleep episode is not sufficient for a full recovery from chronic sleep loss. Intrusive microsleep episodes or daytime napping often occur when the need is pressing.
The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are severe, including decreased performance, gastrointestinal disorders, and increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease – death being the ultimate consequence.
Yes – Leonie Kirszenblat, Neuroscientist.
Yes, in the short term. If you have a bad night’s sleep you will feel like you need to sleep more the following night. This is because the brain detects when we haven’t had enough sleep, through the accummulation of ‘sleep pressure’. Sleep pressure causes physiological changes to the brain, to tell your brain when it needs to sleep more.
Although you can catch up on a bit of lost sleep, being chronically sleep deprived is bad for the brain. This is because sleep rewires connections between your brain cells, helping you to consolidate important memories, and forget things that are probably less important. So catching up on sleep on the weekend is unlikely to help you remember things you learnt earlier in the week.