It’s a common belief that if you don’t get enough sleep during the week, you can “catch up” by sleeping a little bit later on the weekend. But two studies released this week from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin – Madison both say it may take more sleep than you’d think to help your body recover.
We’ve all done it--stayed up late to watch TV or go out with friends even though we have to be up early the next day. But what price are we paying for those extra hours of play time? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied 159 healthy adults to find out. The group started with a good night of sleep, then each person went on a sleep schedule ranging from no sleep to 10 hours of sleep for five nights in a row. Every two hours during the day, all the study participants had to complete a computerized test to see how their brains were functioning.
As expected, all of the participants who had reduced sleep during the five nights also had lower scores on the brain tests during the day. The surprise came after all the study participants got a night of recovery sleep. Even after hours of “catch-up” sleep, the people who had been sleep deprived continued to show lapses of attention, sleepiness, and slower reaction times.
Researchers estimated it would take 10 solid hours of recovery sleep to make up for the sleep lost over several days. They concluded that people who normally don’t get enough sleep probably can’t sleep long enough in one night to really catch up on the sleep they’ve been missing.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had similar results from their study. They determined that getting just four hours of sleep five nights in a row has the same effect on the brain as pulling an “all-nighter” with no sleep at all for one night.
These studies show that even a mild reduction in sleep over several nights can be harmful. If you are sleep deprived, you may find it harder to think clearly or solve complex problems and you may make more mistakes when you are tired.