The Weekend Catchup Game Doesn’t Work, and This Is Why

Aug 20, 2020

You’ve been hanging around long enough, read enough, heard enough, that you know (at least in theory), how important it is for you to get the sleep you need.

You know that you should be getting 8 hours a night, you know that you’re probably going to sleep later than you ought to be (what with kids waking you up early, or waking you in the middle of the night).

And maybe you’re even trying to make up for the sleep you’re not getting - you’ve tried ways to feel more rested, you’ve tried napping, or you’ve tried getting extra sleep on shabbos.

But somehow, you just never seem to be able to catch up on your sleep.

Sleeping well and feeling rested is partially an art and partially a science, and this bit is more the science. 

Because, yeah, there actually is a reason that the weekend catchup game doesn’t work.

Sleep debt: what it is, and how you get it 

Debt is no good.

And sleep debt is just as bad as the rest of them.

Worse, even, because unlike some other types of debt, this debt can kill you. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So let’s start from the beginning.

We all have a certain amount of sleep we need over a 24 hour period. For our babies and toddlers, it’ll be between 19 and 13 hours. For school aged children, it goes down to 14 to 10 hours, and then for teens to adults, it’s 10 to 7 hours. (Click each age range for more information on each).

So let’s say you’re an average adult. And you need, like most average adults, 8 hours of sleep a day.

But that sleep needs to be

So, that means if you’re not getting eight hours of sleep, or if you’re “getting eight hours”, but not with those two qualities (or if your sleep need is actually greater than eight hours), then you will start to build up sleep debt.

Meaning: you owe your body sleep.

So let’s take a simple math equation:

Let’s say you need 8 hours of sleep at night, and let’s say that your sleep is PERFECT - you fall asleep shortly after when you get into bed, sleep deeply and well and completely the whole night. But, you go to sleep for the night at 11:30 pm, and you start your morning every day at 6:30, leaving you only 7 hours for sleeping.

For the sake of our calculations, let’s say you’re starting fresh: perfect past sleep record.

On day 1, you wake up, and you’ve gotten 1 hour less of sleep than you need, so you have 1 hour of sleep debt.

Night two, you again get only 7 hours of sleep of sleep; by the time you wake up, you’re up to 2 hours of sleep debt.

And the debt continues to grow. By the time you’re 8 days in, if you haven’t done anything to recoup lost sleep, you’re now an entire night of sleep behind -- and you’ll be feeling it. Oh boy, you’ll be feeling it.

Chronic sleep debt

We know that sleep debt lasts at least 14 days. At least.

So that means that if you only get 7 hours of sleep on nights one and two, and then sleep 8 hours a night for the next week, you’ll be 9 days in, and you’ll STILL be carrying those 2 hours of sleep debt from the first two nights.

Now, if you go to sleep two hours early on night 10, you’ll have made up those two hours of sleep.

If you continue to get eight hours of deep, consolidated sleep for the rest of your life, that debt will essentially disappear after a couple weeks (we presume) and you’ll be good to go, happily frolicking through the daisies.

But what if you don’t start getting enough sleep, or catch up on old sleep? What if you’re perpetually getting 1, 2, or even 4 hours too few of sleep every single night, night after night?

Then comes Chronic Sleep Debt. Like anything else chronic it is (as per Prof. Google): “long-lasting and difficult to eradicate”.

I think that speaks for itself.

Once someone is suffering from chronic sleep debt, it can

  • Increase the amount of sleep you’ll need every night in order to feel rested/pay back your debt
  • Make you feel tired no matter how much sleep you get
  • Cause a host of other problems, including a lowered immune response, heart problems, premature aging/death, decreased pain tolerance, impaired decision making, etc.

Why the Weekend Catch-up Game Doesn’t work

To go back to our math equation before, if you’re getting too little sleep during the week, and you try to use Shabbos/Sunday to catch up, by the time you get to the end of the week, if you’ve been getting 7 hours of sleep a night, you’ll have to get an additional 3.5 hours per night in order to compensate (which would be a whopping 11.5 hours on both Friday night and Motzei Shabbos).

And if you’re getting FEWER hours than that a night, or if you’re not getting enough deep sleep or REM sleep, or if you’re being woken many times (for example, from your kids waking), then the amount of sleep you’ll need is increased even more.

That’s not to say, of course, that you shouldn’t get the extra sleep that you can on the weekends - on the contrary, that’s a great tool to use! - but remember that it will take more than that to heal your sleep deficit, especially if you’re already suffering from chronic sleep deprivation.

(Our kids suffer from sleep debt, too)

And remember - we’re not the only ones that can suffer from sleep debt and chronic sleep debt or deprivation.

When our children don’t get the sleep they need, they can build up sleep debt, too, and, unfortunately most young children and babies are starting off life with sleep deprivation, causing or exacerbating a whole host of issues that children shouldn’t have to be struggling with.

Healing your deficit

Healing your deficit takes time, patience and awareness.

It likely won’t be an easy, smooth journey, but one of ups and downs, two steps forward, one step back. 

If you’re not in a position to do a sleep bootcamp, then don’t.

So here are some things that you can (and should!) do to help heal your sleep deficit:

Sleep Deeper by allowing optimal melatonin levels

  • Turn off all screens 2 hours (or, minimum 30 minutes) before bed, and keep your devices out of your room
  • Install a program like f.lux that will reduce blue light emissions from your device (they have download options for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, and Android)
  • Keep your room DARK all night long. Like dark, dark. Like can’t-see-your-hand-when-it’s-in-front-of-your-face dark. I tell my clients that on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being daytime brightness and 10 being pitch black, the room should be a 10 if you want your melatonin to be in full gear - especially when you're somewhere that has light pollution and/or it’s the summer with early mornings. 
  • Have a bedtime routine. Just 15 minutes of the same steps in the same order every night (shower, brush teeth, pajamas, read a book, etc.) will cue your body and brain to wind down and get ready to crank out the melatonin you need to sleep well.

NOTE: using artificial melatonin is NOT a good solution - for a variety of reasons.

Sleep deeper by reducing cortisol and revving-up hormones

  • Don’t allow yourself to go to sleep overtired. Once in a while is fine, but regularly (daily or weekly) going to sleep overtired will prevent you from getting the deep, continuous sleep you need.
  • Avoid artificial stimulants - especially closer to bedtime! Steer clear of coffee, caffeinated teas, chocolate, caffeinated sodas, and lots of sugar in the late afternoon and early evening. (If you do drink coffees, teas or sodas with caffeine, you’re best off steering clear of those after noon, but definitely no later than 3 or 4 (with plenty of water afterwards!) to allow your system time to flush it out before you turn in

Plain, old-fashioned, getting more sleep

  • Go to sleep earlier. As much as you can. If you can only do 10 minutes earlier, do 10 minutes earlier. If you can do more - 30, an hour, two hours - do that too. 
  • Wake up later. Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Most of my clients only crack their eyes open when they hear their kids up - which means you probably can’t wake up any later. But if it is an option to wake up any later (especially if you’re being woken by something that can be prevented), then arrange that. Even if it’s not every day, it will still make a dent in your sleep deficit.
  • Take a nice, long nap.  A 30 minute nap will be a great boost to prevent you from becoming overtired, but a real, solid 1.5+ hour nap will help you recoup lost sleep. Just be sure you’re not napping too late in the afternoon so you don’t prevent yourself from being able to sleep well at night.
  • Prevent nighttime interruptions. 
    • Don’t drink too much water in the evening so you’re not being woken to use the bathroom (though if you’re pregnant, you’ll probably end up waking to use the bathroom anyway). 
    • And, of course, make sure you don’t have any children unnecessarily waking you up - or keeping you up! - at night. If you do have a baby or toddler that’s waking up, get on the waitlist for the KinderWink Academy VIP Group by signing up below so that you’ll know when the doors open, and you will have everything you need to help your kids sleep through the night - so you can, too.

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