Whether you’ve got an early flight coming up or preparing for a night out, many of us know the stress that comes with knowing you won’t be sleeping much that night.
Trying to catch up on those lost hours can be difficult, but experts say there is actually an easy way to protect against the effects of being sleep deprived in advance.
Sleep banking involves getting additional sleep in the lead-up to the day you know you will be sleep deprived – and it could take as little as an hour a night.
For example, this could include going to bed an hour early for six nights before an event at the end of the week or fitting in a 20-minute nap during your lunch break.
Sleep banking is the practice of getting a couple extra hours of rest each night leading up to a period you know you won’t be sleeping as much, such as during travel or after having a child
‘I think that trying to sleep as much as possible leading up to a period of time where you think sleep might be problematic is absolutely helpful,’ Dr Chris Winter, a neurologist and sleep expert, told DailyMail.com.
‘While it might not be necessarily as good as getting a perfect night of sleep every night of your life, I don’t know who falls into that category.’
For most people, the body needs seven to nine hours a night to ward of a host of diseases.
Sleep banking is the practice of getting more sleep than normal for a short period of time leading up to a time when you know you won’t be sleeping much. This could mean sleeping an extra hour every night leading up to a flight that leaves early in the morning.
The concept of sleep banking was first coined in 2009 by researchers from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
In their study, the team planned to rest if it was possible to ‘prep’ for sleepless nights.
They found that participants who banked sleep before periods in which they got less sleep than normal had improved alertness compared to those who stuck to their normal routine.
Additionally, a 2020 review suggested that sleep banking could provide critical improvements to reaction time in military personnel.
The idea is that once you hit a busy period, you can rely on the sleep you have banked.
He pointed to a 2021 Swiss study that tested whether or not it was better to get 56 total hours of sleep per week by sleeping the same length every night (eight hours per night for seven nights), or by averaging that 56 hours throughout the week.
‘It basically said, “Look, your risk of dying is no different if you’re averaging seven hours or eight hours of sleep per night than if you’re actually getting that,”‘ Dr Winter said.
Additionally, a French study published in the journal Sleep had participants sleep for either seven or nine hours a night the week before limiting their sleep to just three hours. The group that had banked extra hours was less likely to make significant errors on a reaction time test than the group that didn’t bank more sleep.
The participants in the nine-hour group also recovered more quickly from their period of deprived sleep.
Sleep banking could reduce sleep debt, also known as sleep deficit. According to the Sleep Foundation, this is the difference between the amount of sleep you need and how much you’re actually getting. If your body needs eight hours of sleep, for example, and you only get six, you have accumulated two hours of sleep debt.
Sleep debt is cumulative, so if you go to bed an hour later than usual for a few days at a time, that will add up.
Sleep banking could help the third of Americans who aren’t getting enough rest each night. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34 percent of US adults aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep, the recommended amount each night.
The key is making up the amount of sleep lost within a week, Dr Winter said. After this point, those hours start to accumulate.
‘As long as you do it quickly and you’re pretty diligent about it, I think that can lead to perfectly healthy happy lives,’ he said.
A lack of sleep has consistently been linked to chronic health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.
According to 2020 data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveyed 400,000 Americans across the US, the most sleep-deprived states include Hawaii, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Sleep deprivation in this dataset means less than seven hours per night.
The states with the least sleep deprivation included Colorado, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
This drops to 26 percent when adults are over 65 years old, but that is still more than a quarter of adults getting insufficient sleep.
Men are more likely than women to get insufficient sleep overall, with 33.3 percent saying they sleep less than seven hours a night compared to 32.1 percent of women.
The CDC says that 8.4 percent of American adults take pills to fall asleep, more than double the amount who took them 10 years prior.
These could rob the body of rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Too little REM sleep could lead to forgetfulness and make it harder to get up in the morning.
The CDC recommends that all Americans get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Children aged six to 12 years need nine to 12 hours a night, while teenagers should get eight to ten hours.
Sleeping in on the weekend or taking a nap in the middle of the day are easy ways to fit sleep banking into the week.
‘My number one tip is this should not be the default position,’ Dr Winter said. ‘Is the thing you’re banking for something that you could have avoided? If the answer if yes, let’s talk about ways to not get into this position.’
This includes trying not to stay up late binging a TV show or going out.
However, if you can’t avoid sleep banking, such as if you work the night shift or have a newborn, keep it consistent. If you take a nap in the middle of the day, do it around the same time and for the same length every day.
‘Try to make it almost like an appointment rather than “I just kind of sleep when I can,”‘ Dr Winter said.