Recover And Restore

Despite prevailing fears, lost z’s will not do you in. But there is a strategy for catching up. Here, the new snooze rules.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Despite prevailing fears, lost z’s will not do you in. But there is a strategy for catching up. Here, the new snooze rules.

First off, one thing needs clarifying: If you feel alert and happy throughout the day, chances are you’re getting enough sleep, even if you’re not clocking the recommended amount, says Jim Horne, a professor emeritus of psychophysiology at Loughborough University in England and the author of Sleeplessness. And whenever a couple of nights, or even a full week, of bad sleep leaves you dragging, it’s still not a crisis – you can undo the damage. “There have been a lot of warnings that if you don’t get seven or eight hours every night, you’ll develop high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity,” Jim says. “But the evidence shows that’s not true.” To get back on track after a few lousy nights, follow these easy research-based strategies.

Don’t worry about a one-off

Your body bounces back from a single sleepless (or almost sleepless) night on its own by instinctively increasing the amount of deep sleep – the most restorative, health-boosting type – the next night, research from Northwestern University shows. To give it an assist, take a few minutes whenever you can throughout the day to meditate or clear your mind. Your body may even start recovering during those moments of relaxation, Jim says. To really jump-start the process, try taking a short nap if you can.

Practice the ⅓ plan 

Thankfully, you don’t have to pay back every hour of lost sleep. “It’s the deep sleep that you really need to make up, and this is generally just one-third of the total sleep you lost,” Jim says. So if you fall short by an hour or so every night of the workweek – losing around seven hours total – you need to sleep only two to three extra hours over the weekend to regain lost deep sleep. Bonus: Naps count toward your goal. The key is to get that extra sleep as soon as you possibly can, says David Dinges, the chief of the division of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The longer you go without making up the time, the more likely you are to feel groggy and cranky.

Front-load your catch-up z’s 

It may be healthier to go to bed earlier when you’re getting your makeup sleep than to snooze until noon. “The bulk of your deep sleep occurs during the first few hours after you drift off,” Jim says. The last hours of sleep are shallower and not as restorative. Besides that, “the time you wake up sets your biological clock. If you sleep in late, you’ll disrupt that clock, and you’re more likely to have difficulties drifting off the following night,” says Jerald Simmons, founder of Comprehensive Sleep Medicine Associates, a chain of clinical sleep centres in Texas. The bottom line: Snoozing an extra hour or two on weekend mornings is fine, but more than that can backfire.