Study Finds That Making Up For Lost Sleep Can’t Be Done By Simply Getting More Sleep


A recent study look at just how quickly people can bounce back after suffering from sleep deprivation. The study looked at patients that were sleep deprived for 10 days, then in recovery for one week, and found that most of their cognitive performance was still not back to normal. Meanwhile, the study authors noted that the concept of “catch-up sleep” is not effective to counteract the bad effects of sleep restriction or deprivation.

Everyone knows that sleep is incredibly important to one’s health, and this is true for almost every living creature on the planet. Moreover, a new study claims that the idea of “catch up sleep” is not as viable as people first believed.

Study authors from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland looked at the changes in ‘functioning associated with sleep loss among adults.’ The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study participants were made to spend 10 days in some sort of sleep deprivation where they got one-third less sleep than they normally did, which was then followed by one full week of sleep recovery.

Their findings showed that sleep deprivation actually takes a continuous or lasting toll on a person’s functionality. Researchers found deficits in the participants ability to think clearly, something that progressively worsened as “partial sleep restriction” kept going.


Recovery Was Difficult

Despite participants having extra “make-up” sleep on consecutive days, they still did not quickly recover from their days of lacking sleep.

Notably, the amount of sleep that individuals need is said to vary widely from person to person. Yet on average, adults need at least seven hours of sleep every day to keep their maximum functionality.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine and Clinical Neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Dr. Stephanie M. Stahl, specializes in sleep medicine, but she was not involved with this study. She spoke to Medical News Today, commenting on the importance of similar studies.

She explained, “This study adds to large body of evidence that insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on our daytime functioning. This study in particular highlights that even a short duration of obtaining only 1-2 hours below our goal of 7-plus hours of sleep caused persistence of impairment, even after 1 week of obtaining sufficient sleep.”


A Tired World

The world is incredibly busy, and people tend to sacrifice their sleep for a number of reasons including work, entertainment, and other affairs.

More often than not, people tend to miscalculate what the negative effects of low-level, chronic sleep deprivation are on their physical and mental health. Although most people think that they can “make up” for their hours of lost sleep by sleeping more or longer on weekends, for example, this new research implies that people might be majorly overestimating this skill.

The researchers note in their paper that disrupted sleep is nothing new, and that it’s actually quite common amongst a number of professions and industries like entertainment, healthcare, and transportation. But with a number of dayshift workers currently working from home due to the global pandemic, it has resulted in a “blurring of the boundaries between work and private life.”

While the ability to work from home or remotely has been godsend for many during the pandemic, things have not been okay. In fact, the research group shares, “The disruption of the rest-activity rhythm is one of the common side effects of remote work.”


Living In A World That Never Sleep

Life these days has become incredibly fast paced, and people have been feeling immense pressure to produce, perform and over achieve. While this has managed to push work productivity, it has caused most to ignore the fundamental fact of human biology that people are diurnal creatures. What this means is that humans have evolved into creatures that need to sleep at night and be awake and alert during the daylight hours. Moreover, people also need ‘a minimum amount of sleep every 24 hours.’

Dr. Stahl said, “Chronic sleep deprivation is a very under-recognized problem in our society. Sleep deprivation is a very common cause of poor concentration, inattention, and daytime sleepiness, increasing [the] risk of accidents, including motor vehicle accidents.”

He also noted that issues and problems linked to sleep deprivation didn’t end there. He explained, “Many people do not realize how insufficient sleep can affect our health. Insufficient sleep can increase [the] risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, infection, and dementia.”

“A large study was published earlier this year in Nature Communications, showing that 6 hours of sleep or less on a regular basis [at the age of 50 and 60 years] increased risk of dementia by 30%.”


The Recovery Myth: “I Will Make It Up Later”

It’s a common belief that if you give up a little sleep, it won’t have an effect on your health, but that’s simply not true. In fact, recovery from sleep loss is what the research team focused on the most.

In their new study, the investigators used advanced measures of wakefulness, one of which was continuous actigraphy, which is the use of body sensors to monitor the participants’ levels of activity.

The research group also monitored the EEG brain activity every day while making them undergo a number of tests of objective and subjective cognitive performance. What they found among these measures is that ‘only reaction speeds recovered to baseline after 1 week of catch-up sleep.’

The research authors wrote, “The current study suggests that 7-day recovery following 10-day sleep restriction is sufficient only for the reaction speed to reverse to baseline, while the other behavioral, locomotor, and neurophysiological measures do not show such improvement.”

However, according to Dr. Stahl, because the sample sizes were considered relatively small, the study was “somewhat underpowered.”

In the end, the investigators found that the “neurobehavioral consequences of chronic partial sleep deprivation cannot be overcome easily and last much longer than one expects.”

What this means is that people shouldn’t assume that they can easily and quickly “recover to baseline” after a period of sleep restriction simply by sleeping longer or more later on. Rather, there tend to be deficits in a person’s ability to think clearly and function at its optimum state.

Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco, Dr. Aric Prather, Ph.D., told MNT in an email that this particular research adds to the growing evidence about the importance of sleep.

He wrote, “This study provides further evidence that there may be a significant cost to prolonged sleep loss that it not easily recoupled.”