Can You Catch Up on Sleep Deprivation?


A good night’s sleep is elusive these days. In our work-driven, dog-eat-dog world of maximum productivity, sleeping for even the recommended number of hours is strangely seen as lazy or weak. During the week, we may rack up hours of sleep debt, sleeping five or so hours a night. When the weekend comes around, many of us opt to sleep in. The question is: does this actually help?

A Complex Answer

The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. A quick Google search of the topic yielded various results, ranging from “it might help” to “it probably doesn’t.”

In 2010, the NHS reported on a study that gave subjects with otherwise normal sleeping habits and good health a five-night schedule of restricted four-hour sleep. They then divided the group to sleep different doses of weekend make-up sleep. They discovered that the higher the dose of make-up sleep, the better the subjects did on a variety of cognitive functioning tests.

Meanwhile, the National Sleep Foundation argues that while sleeping on the weekend may decrease daytime sleepiness, your focus won’t improve and your circadian rhythm will be thrown off-base. This seems logical; a workweek of a 6 a.m. wake-up time is so different from a weekend with a 10 a.m. wake-up time, you might as well be in two time zones.

Yet, a recent Time magazine report followed a Swedish study that suggested those who made up for weeknight sleep deprivation by sleeping in on the weekends did not have a higher mortality risk than those who slept an adequate seven hours a night.

The Bottom Line: Get Adequate Sleep

All of these studies acknowledged their shortcomings. The Swedish study was conducted over a 13-year period, which may not have been enough time to draw lifetime conclusions. The study reported by the NHS only concerned healthy subjects with schedules that did not interfere with their sleep. The bottom line remains: get enough sleep!

It is recommended that adults (including seniors) sleep 7-8 hours a night, while teenagers are recommended 9-10 hours. Cycling through all five stages of sleep (REM, 1, 2, 3, and 4) can strengthen your immune system, allow you to learn better, and help you form memories.

What If You Can’t Sleep?

Some people find it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. This may be due to a variety of factors, from medications that affect sleep to an underlying sleeping disorder. Talk to a physician if your lack of quality sleep causes difficulty in other facets of your life like work or school. You may need treatment for a medical condition.

Are You Taking a Medication That Affects Sleep?

Some medications have the side effect of causing disturbances in your sleep. These range from anti-depressants and cold and cough medications to beta blockers and diuretics. You may wonder if it is possible to treat your other medical condition as well as get a good night’s sleep. Luckily, there may be alternative medications out there. Talk to your doctor.

If affording medication is something that makes you lose sleep at night, consider buying your medicine online from an international or Canadian pharmacy. A Canadian pharmacy referral service like RX Connected is a good place to start.

Do You Have a Sleep Disorder? 

Because we’re asleep when it happens, some of us may have a sleep disorder and not even be aware of it. Common sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia – inability to fall asleep
  • Narcolepsy – sudden onset of sleep during the day
  • Sleep apnea – breathing problems during sleep
  • Restless leg syndrome – tingling sensation in the legs that distracts from sleep

Sleep disorders are treatable, so talk to your doctor. You may have to undergo a polysomnography (or sleep study) to diagnose your particular disorder. Some sleep disorders can be fixed with simple lifestyle changes.

Is Your Lifestyle to Blame?

Certain things we do during the day can impact our sleep quality. Try to keep in mind the following:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day
  • Exercise helps sleep, but don’t exercise within a few hours before bed
  • Sleep away from bright lights (including screens!) and at a comfortable temperature
  • Instead of lying awake in bed, do something else that will make you tired like reading

Simple lifestyle changes like implementing the above can increase the quality of your sleep and reduce daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and lack of focus. Of course, this is easier said than done. Ease into a new sleep schedule slowly, such as setting your bedtime back five minutes at a time.

Sleep medications can be habit-forming and should only be used as a last resort. Talk to your doctor before undertaking any new treatment.

Many of us may be tempted to put off sleep for the sake of work, but consider this: good quality sleep leads to good quality work! So think of snoozing as an investment. It’s actually a productive way to spend your time.



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