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Can I catch up on sleep?

Last Modified: September 03, 2021

Family Medicine

We often think of things like sleeping in on weekends, cat naps and resting our eyes for a moment or two as legitimate deposits into an invisible bank account of healthy sleeping hours. We asked Ram Verma, MD, PPG – Sleep Medicine, to answer our questions around the give and take of quality rest.  

Is it possible to catch up on sleep?

Sleep debt results from sleeping less than the required amount of sleep for optimal health. An average of 7-9 hours of good quality sleep is considered adequate for optimal health in adults. The sleep debt accumulates if you are sleeping less than required. The body may have an invisible bank account in terms of accumulated chemicals and toxins. The body waits for opportunities to catch up on sleep to repair itself.

You can partially recover from sleep debt if you sleep longer on weekend mornings, which might be a practical way in this busy world, but it is not the healthiest strategy. According to recent research, you do not fully recover from sleep loss if you sleep longer hours over the weekends. However, if you are suffering from sleep loss due to your responsibilities during the week, it’s recommended to try and get an extra 1-2 hours of sleep the following weekend and then every night in the following week.

Getting extra hours of sleep over the weekend is better than not getting it at all, particularly for those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, which can be more harmful for the body.

Try to avoid napping during the day, which may affect your circadian rhythm and make it hard to have a regular sleep schedule at night.

What are the risks associated with a lack of sleep?

There are several negative health consequences of not having enough sleep over both the weekdays and weekends. The people suffering from sleep debt notice a lapse in attention, daytime somnolence, fatigue and decreased reaction time, among other symptoms.

Is there such a thing as “too much sleep”?

Some adults need more than 10 hours of sleep. This is considered too much for others. Recent studies have shown that less than 6 hours of sleep or more than 9 hours of sleep increases all-cause mortality.

We should pay also attention to the quality of sleep which is very important. Your quality of sleep can be affected by underlying sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, periodic leg movement disorder or medical conditions such as asthma, GERD, COPD, heart failure, chronic pain, fibromyalgia etc. Optimal management of these conditions is very important to have good quality sleep and rest.

Is it acceptable to adjust your sleep schedule on the weekends to stay up later?

Try to make sleep a priority for optimal health. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. It is recommended not to have more than 2 hours’ difference between your bedtime during the week and your bedtime during the weekend to avoid misalignment of your internal body clock. 

If you feel sleepy, fatigued or tired despite having 7-8 hours of sleep, it indicates poor quality of sleep. You may benefit from a consultation with a physician who specializes in Sleep Medicine.



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