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There are many reasons why many of us do not get the recommended seven hours or more sleep every night. Travel plans, working hours, television and – a big one – with small children all have a toll.
Recently published in the journal Sleep research shows that this is the case up to six years after the birth of a child Many mothers and fathers still do not sleep as much as before the birth of their child. As a parent, there is less time during the day to devote oneself to oneself.
So can you fall asleep? That depends in part on how much sleep you have missed.
A recent study in Current Biology shows how fast the side effects of sleep deprivation can occur. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder recruited a number of young, healthy adults who agreed to stay in a sleep lab. Some were allowed to sleep no more than five hours a night for five consecutive days.
"After five days [gained] it was even 5 pounds," says study author Christopher Depner, who studies the relationships between sleep loss and metabolic diseases. Sleep deprivation can inhibit the hormones that regulate appetite, he explains, and people tend to eat more.
Depner and his colleagues also documented a decrease in insulin sensitivity in those with a lack of sleep. "Some people have returned to levels where they were considered pre-diabetics," he says. Presumably, this blood sugar increase in these young, healthy people would be temporary. But it is a striking indicator of how much a lack of sleep can affect metabolism.
And even after a long night of sleep, participants still gained as much weight as those in the study who were not allowed to get the extra weekend sleep. Conclusion: It can be difficult for our metabolism to recover from a week's sleep deprivation, and over time, chronic sleep loss can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
These results are eye-opening, but they do not draw the full picture. Because many of us who do not sleep are missed here or there for only a few hours. Our sleep loss is uncommon and not chronic.
Imagine the following scenario: You have a long day of travel and arrive home late, say about 2 o'clock in the morning. And you have to get up early to meet early the next day. Is that a big deal?
"The short-term effect is that you are a little drowsier – your concentration is poor or [you may lose] words on the tip of your tongue," says Dr. Chris Winter a sleep specialist in Charlottesville, Virginia. But what is the long-term effect of a night with partial sleep loss?
"I do not think there really is one," says Winters.
Winter says that our bodies are well compensated for a bad sleep. "This correction is likely to be pretty quick," says Winter. "They slept only four hours last night, so you'll probably sleep pretty well the following night."
. So it is ideal to go there bed and wake up every day at the same time, it is not always possible to stick to this routine. And a recent longevity study suggests that this is okay. "We are very adaptable," says Winter.
Researchers in Sweden investigated how much day of the week and weekend sleep were associated with life span. The study included approximately 44,000 individuals who were followed for 13 years. They found that people who had fallen asleep less during the week, but had made up for this through extended weekend sleep, had no increased risk of premature death. The researchers conclude that "long weekend sleep can compensate for the short weekday sleep". They published their findings in the Journal of Sleep Research .
"If you're someone who needs seven hours of sleep a night, you really need 49 hours a week," says Winter. In other words, it's probably okay to change your sleep a little over a short period of time, as long as it's what you need.
"Yes, I think you can catch up on your lost sleep," says Winter. "I do not think I can ever make up for the sleep I've lost at the medical school and at home, but I think you can do it in the short term."
However, there is a potential disadvantage of falling asleep during the weekend: too much sleep can throw off the body clock. So, one or two hours of extra sleep is fine, but you do not want to sleep so long on a Sunday morning that it's hard to fall asleep on Sunday night.
Another way to recover: Take a nap.
"A 20-minute nap can make up for one hour of sleep," says Jim Horne, a sleep researcher and emeritus professor of psychophysiology at Loughborough University, UK.
Horne also points to a review study that concluded that Naps can help improve performance by day – from improved memory to more alarm. But here is a tip: Do not take a nap after 3pm, or you may be bothering your nocturnal sleep.
And Horne has another strategy for a nap if you want to wake up. [19659012"Peoplesaycoffeebreaks"saysHorneTheideaistoliedownafterdrinkingcoffee
"This coffee takes 20 minutes to enter," explains Horne. That's just enough time to catch a few Z's and he has shown that this is a "very effective combination" for drowsy drivers.
The caffeine-plus nap strategy is now under a variety of names. My favorite (with a hat tip for the writer Daniel Pink): the Nappuccino.
Follow NPR's Allison Aubrey at @AubreyNPRFood .