As someone who rarely sleeps more than 5 hours a night, I have been inundated for years with dire warnings about the effects of sleep deprivation on my mental and physical health. It's not that I don't want to sleep longer, of course, I do, but my job requires that I rise at 4 AM. Mind you, I'm not complaining, I love my job.

Besides, when we commiserate with our super-early-rising television colleagues who arise at hours akin to the middle of the night (1 or 2 AM), I realize I have nothing to crab about. But now for the sake of all sleep-deprived humans, comes the encouraging news that, yes, you can catch up on lost sleep.

If you've heard the term "circadian rhythm" and wondered what importance it might have in your life, I'll try to explain. Circadian rhythm is a kind of internal clock that regulates your wakefulness during the day and promotes sleepiness at night.

Generally, your body starts producing melatonin (sleep-promoting hormone) around 9 PM and levels drop as you reach morning hours. Light exposure can moderate this slightly, but for the most part, a consistent routine is responsible for regulating your internal sleeping/waking clock.

Years worth of sleep studies have indicated that getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night could lead to cognitive decline, emotional decay and dire health consequences (weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, death, etc.).

Thankfully, a new study (done over 13 years, with about 44,000 participants in Sweden), has found that if you have a habit of making up for lost sleep on the weekends, (as I tend to do) your mortality rate is no different than those who consistently get around 7 hours a night.

Of course, there are naysayers who believe longer studies (over a 30 or 40 year period) need to be done. And another portion of the same study indicates that people getting too much sleep (over 7 hours per night) face a 25% higher mortality rate.

I guess it's a "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" type of scenario, "too little sleep, too much sleep or juuust right!" I plan on believing that taking a few naps during the week and snoozing in on Saturday and Sunday will help me beat the somewhat hard to understand odds.

Sources: Time Health, Journal of Sleep Health


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