This is the first in a series of works about resetting aspects of our lives for a healthier New Year.
Experts say most people aren’t getting enough sleep, and problems can become apparent as a result and become serious.
Elizabeth Klaman, a sleep expert at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, writes, “Absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’—people who come to work very tired—car accidents, medical Mistakes, etc.” She said, “It has negative effects on mood, psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disorders, increased obesity, possibly cancer, definitely dementia, neurological disorders.”
“Memory, cognitive function,” added Till Rohneberg, professor of chronobiology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich and former researcher at Harvard University.
Medical assistance may be required in more chronic and extreme cases resulting from sleep disturbances. But if the problem is caused by long hours of work, family obligations, or reading, listening, or watching late at night, you may want to take the opportunity to better adjust your sleep habits and catch up. There are some simpler solutions, including For example, a little on weekends. But as is often the case with many behavioral problems, the first step is to recognize the problem.
Numerous studies show that most of us are not getting enough sleep to rest, and that long-term deprivation leads to serious health consequences. We understand that good rest is an important component of our personal health, yet we treat a good night’s sleep as a luxury.
But probably not, said Klerman. More likely than that, you’re tired of telling yourself. Klerman and Roenneberg say the best strategy is to get enough rest each night, but weekends are important for people who often work long hours each day, play at night, and juggle family and other obligations. It can provide an oasis of sleep to rest and crawl.
Catching up on lost sleep isn’t a mathematical exercise, but Roenneberg says a few mornings of sleep can be an important way to reduce your sleep debt.
And Klerman is convinced the debt exists. A few years ago, she conducted research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and even though she was reasonably alert at work and enough sleep to keep important things from slipping at home, she still wasn’t. I stressed that I wasn’t resting enough.
Klerman and colleagues surveyed subjects about their sleeping habits and their beliefs about how much sleep they needed. Then they got that amount of sleep every night for his week before coming to the lab. On the first day, each subject was given the opportunity to take five naps a day in what is called a “multiple sleep latency test,” in which he was given 20 minutes before he fell asleep. Nearly all participants fell asleep every time, and those who claimed to need the least sleep nodded the fastest.
“Some people fell asleep before the technician even left the room,” says Klerman. “The technician said, ‘Try to sleep,’ and left the room, and the technician said, [monitoring] screen, the participants were already asleep. You claim to be getting enough sleep, but if you’re getting enough sleep, you shouldn’t fall asleep too quickly during the day.
Next, the research team gave the subjects 16 hours of “sleep opportunity” a day. She takes 12 hours at night and he naps 4 hours. This ‘opportunity’ meant staying in bed, turning off the lights, no books, no phone, and no getting out of bed. On the first night, apparently rested participants slept an average of about 12.5 hours. The second night was about 11 hours. After 5 days, subjects stabilized at an average of about 8 hours, with a little more in younger subjects and a little less in older subjects. Next, they repeated his latent sleep test of five naps. This time, almost no one fell asleep.
“There’s a difference between how alert people feel and how much sleep they get,” says Klerman. “I’m not saying everyone should sleep 12 and a half hours every night. There was a catch-up sleep there. But to get eight hours of sleep, you have to be in bed for eight hours or more.” And if you fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow, you’re not getting enough sleep.”
However, relying heavily on weekend sleep can be complicated by the fact that there are other factors besides simple deprivation. describes the effects of waking up hours later than usual on Friday and Saturday nights and later on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Roenneberg says the effect of social jet lag on some people’s internal clocks is like flying from Frankfurt to New York every Friday and flying back on Monday. This social jet lag occurs because people’s work schedules may not align with their body clock’s preferred schedule. When I don’t have to get up for work or school, I go to bed later and sleep longer.
Maintaining a more regular schedule is best, but extra sleep is still not a bad thing.
“Most people aren’t getting enough sleep overall, so if possible, I recommend getting more sleep the night you don’t have work or school the next day,” says Klerman. If you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t worry if your sleep schedule is regular.”
According to Klerman and Roenneberg, it’s easy to spot the signs of sleep deprivation. If you need an alarm clock to wake you up (85% of us do), fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, or need a nap during the day, change your habits. It’s time to re-evaluate. And if you wake up tired after eight hours of sleep, your bed partner snores loudly, stops breathing during sleep, or kicks your feet at night, Klerman says, go to a sleep clinic. It is time to consult with
“If you’re getting enough sleep and no sleep disturbances, you shouldn’t go to sleep during the day,” Klerman said.
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