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7 Surprising Things That Actually Happen To Your Body When You Try To Catch Up On Sleep


When you begin to lose sleep, it may feel close to impossible to get back on track. Regardless of how daunting it may be, though, it's worth it to try your best. Catching up on sleep is a complicated process, but it's an important first step to getting your body accustomed to a schedule.

Scientists call the sleep you lose (that you're trying to "catch up" on) sleep debt. "The concept of sleep debt means that if youre sleep deprived, you need to catch up on the amount of time youre missing," health and wellness coach Caleb Backe, tells Bustle. While different people have different equations to repay this debt, it's still something you can do on your own.

"The rule of thumb to know how much sleep someone needs is the amount of sleep this person needs to feel refreshed and ready to go the day after without taking caffeine products," Dr. Hassan Batayneh, a neurologist with fellowship-training in sleep medicine at Sunrise Medical Group in Sunrise, Florida, tells Bustle. So it's important to try your best to catch up on sleep in a mindful way and observe how your body reacts.

Here are seven surprising things that actually happen to your body when you try to catch up on sleep, according to experts.

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1Your Memory Function May Improve

While it may take a few nights, once you deal with your sleep debt, you may notice your memory is doing better.

"There is an increase in memory function and elasticity of the brain once the sleep debt is caught up." Nilong Vyas, MD, founder and owner of Sleepless in NOLA sleep consulting and Mommy MD Guide, tells Bustle. If you can commit to sleeping enough hours every night, you may feel benefits like improved memory sooner than you'd anticipate.

2You May Begin To Restore Your Immune System

Sleep deprivation takes a toll on your whole body, including your immune system. Properly catching up on sleep can help it get back to normal.

"Sleep is not optional, and getting limited quantities has real consequences," Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firms sleep health expert, tells Bustle. "[...] Even a few poor nights of sleep can lead to serious sleep deprivation and poor immune function." Even if it may take a few days, catching up on sleep for the benefit of immune function is worthwhile.

3Your Reaction Time Can Improve

Famously, drowsy driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk. One of the issues that causes this is that sleep deprivation can slow your reaction time. Catching up on sleep can help this.

"[Catching up on sleep takes] time, but not as much as you might think," clinical psychologist and sleep doctor Dr. Michael Breus, tells Bustle. Dr. Breus says that reaction time is one of the metrics of sleep deprivation that bounces back the most quickly. So, even in your daily life, you may notice these benefits early on.

4You Can Get More REM Sleep

Rapid eye movement, or REM sleep is the last stage of your sleep cycle, but one of the most important: REM sleep may help you learn, store memories, and balance your mood. And as you try to catch up on sleep, you may be able to have more REM sleep every night.

"[Increased REM sleep] generally occurs because there is more REM in the last third of the night, and when someone does not get enough sleep this is usually what they loose," Dr. Breus says. So as you catch up on sleep, your sleep cycle may become more complete, and you'll get access to the full benefits of a good night's sleep.

5Your Attention Span Can Improve

As you try to catch up on sleep, your body may begin the quiet work of getting your attention span back on track.

"Studies show that the longer you are sleep deprived, the worse your attention gets," Dr. Kansagra says. "The goal is to focus on getting sufficient quality sleep rather than worrying about how much or how little weve slept." So try to catch up on sleep in a more mindful way by focusing on sleep hygiene and healthy sleep habits.

6You Could Fall Into The Trap Of Binge Sleeping

While a lot of what can happen to your body when you try to catch up on sleep is quite positive, there are also some negative things that can happen if you're not adequately addressing your body's needs.

"Napping the next day, or napping on the weekend, or sleeping in on the weekend are short-term solutions to sleep debt," Dr. Martha Cortes, owner of Sleep Fitness LLC in NYC and sleep medicine lecturer, tells Bustle. "While extra weekend sleep does reduce daytime sleepiness and stress, your ability to focus and pay attention is still reduced. This is called binge sleeping and it is not an adequate method to repay sleep debt." The best way to get rid of sleep debt, Dr. Cortes says, is to go to bed thirty minutes earlier every night for a week or two. Your body will thank you.

7You Can Help Prevent Chronic Sleep Deprivation

If you don't procrastinate, and really commit to catching up on sleep after becoming sleep deprived, your body will put in the work as well, and help prevent health issues related to chronic sleep deprivation.

"Sleep is not optional, and getting limited quantities has real consequences," Dr. Kansagra says. "Lack of adequate nighttime sleep can cause chronic sleep deprivation." So as you're catching up on sleep, even if it takes some getting used to, remind yourself that you're helping your body be healthier in the long run.

As you get rid of sleep debt, it can be comforting to know all the ways you're helping your body. "Sleep is oftentimes seen as a luxury that can be fulfilled if and when time allows as there is generally more important things to do,'" Dr. Vyas says. "However, we are learning from ongoing sleep research that sleep is as essential as eating, breathing, and exercise." So even if you have the occasional setback, being committed to getting adequate sleep is still a worthwhile goal.

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