Are you an owl like me, who sleeps super late during the weekdays but sleeps in on the weekends? Cramming for those exams and papers, then dropping dead right after everything is over? Or are you different and like taking naps?
The article “Can You Catch Up on Lost Sleep” by Heidi Mitchell shows we can actually catch up on some sleep we’ve lost. Although it is not sure as to what extent, recovery sleep in the short term does work. For example, you can catch up some sleep you’ve lost on Friday by sleeping in on Sunday morning. But the all-nighters we pulled in the past few years? Those are gone. So the question comes down to: What works better: binge sleeping, sleep banking, or naps?
Well, if you are like me, you are probably a binge sleeper. We accumulate our sleep debt during the days we work, and then catch up on our beauty sleep by staying in for a few extra hours on rest days. This isn’t actually an efficient way on gaining back those sleeps, since we are messing around with our circadian rhythms.
Have you ever slept for more than 10 hours and woke up feeling as if you are walking in fog? That is when your circadian rhythm has been put into a dough mixer. Circadian rhythm is a process that gives us light cues and food cues. They regulate our regular 24-hour cycle. By sleeping in those extra hours, you tend experience jet lag, where your body is confused with day and night.
Do you do something completely different from sleep binging, like planning ahead? Say, sleeping for 10 hours for a few days before a big event, such as not sleeping for 24-hours to finish a paper. This can actually reduce some upcoming sleep deficiencies, as some recent data have shown, according to Mitchell’s article.
But all in all, some doctors say taking scheduled short naps (20-30 minutes a day; ideally 25 minutes) is healthier compared to binge or bank sleeping. Sleep extensions can make you feel disoriented because our bodies, in general, like routines, even if you are not a routine kind of person. These scheduled naps are recommended because you don’t fall into REM sleep where you start dreaming (deep sleep). Going into these deep sleeps is what make you feel muzzy and prevents you from performing at your optimal level. This is where routine naps come into play. Some may plan for a 30-minute nap but end up taking a 2-hour instead, because their bodies are not used to it.
By making it a habit, your body anticipates a short nap without exceeding over the time required. Scheduled naps are also better than occasional for again the same reason, anticipation. When our body is prepared, it works more efficiently. However, that doesn’t mean you must take short naps, for example, every Tuesday at 2pm. You don’t have to take one when you don’t need it or don’t have time for one. These habits take time to get used to, but once you’re there, you and your body will feel more refreshed and not like you just ran a 10 km marathon.
Limitations and Exceptions
Each sleep type’s effectiveness depends on each individual. For example, age: younger people may have difficulties finding a good routine nap that can fit their constantly changing schedules. On the other hand, elderly people, who have gone through the major stages of their life, have more steady schedules. It is easier for them to keep up or maintain the same habit.
Another reason may also be genetics, whether you are more prone to follow routines, have trouble sleeping etc. Being a day-person, a night-person, or falling in-between, can affect the effectiveness as well. For example, night owls are usually used to unusual schedules, so binge sleeping can be a good tool. However, if you are morning bird, binge sleeping would not be a good option as your body may already use to the current routine.
With all these strategies and information, I realized I can’t binge sleep or else I will become like a slug, but bank sleeping actually keeps up my efficiency. With bank sleeping, it is as if I have these short-term muscles that allow me to function for a limited amount of time. Naps are something I am still trying to figure out. Sometimes occasional naps work perfectly and sometimes they don’t. It is also harder for me to find a scheduled nap time since my daily routines aren’t fixed. But, maybe as a university student, I can plan my courses around my naps and occasionally skip them when I’m too busy for one. It really depends on your own values and needs.
- Avoid technological devices with screens (e.g. TV, computers, tablets, cellphones).
- Exercise regularly in the mornings. (But exercising at night is not recommended as it prevents you from relaxing your body.)
- Relax your mind. Instead of brainstorming or worrying about things or issues at night, write them down on a piece of paper and get back to it on the next day. Listen to rainymood or 8tracks!
So try and experiment through what works for you and what doesn’t. You may even discover and invent a completely new strategy. Let me know your strategies below!
BBC Home Sleep tips and advice 6 July 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/articles/advicetips.shtml
DNews How Your Brain’s Internal Clock Works 13 June 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFfAbMbrZrA
Mitchell, Heidi. Can You Catch Up on Lost Sleep? 20 May 2013. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324102604578494872502357516.html
Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A. How to Sleep Better May 2013. http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleep_tips.htm
University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Can you make up for lost sleep? http://www.uamshealth.com/?id=11491&sid=1