Catching Up On Lost Sleep
Catching Up On Lost Sleep

We all have nights where we don’t get enough shut-eye, but what’s the best way to make up for it and get our body clock back in balance?

If you regularly wake up feeling groggy, as if you need a few more hours in the sleep tank, you’re not alone. According to The Sleep Council, 40% of people in the UK suffer from sleep problems and it can do more than just leave us feeling tired and grumpy.

There’s no perfect amount of sleep we’re all different but experts agree that somewhere between six and nine hours per night is needed for most adults, with most of us needing seven to eight.

But what if you’re not getting that much? What if you’re surviving on less than six hours most nights?

Every now and then it shouldn’t make too much difference, but over time, the accumulated effect of not enough sleep can have serious health repercussions, including an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, a suppressed immune system and an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, obesity and depression.

For most of us, the solution is to grab a much-needed lie-in, or an afternoon nap but will that do the job? These experts share their view…

A Well Timed Nap Can Help

Rob Hobson, author of The Art of Sleeping

We all sleep badly from time to time, and the odd bad night’s sleep won’t do you any harm apart from making you feel groggy and grumpy. But if you regularly get less sleep than you need, that’s when the problems start.

Sleep occurs in 90-minute cycles. Most of each cycle is deep sleep, or non-rapid-eye movement sleep (NREM), when the body repairs itself, and the end of the cycle is REM sleep, when the brain processes information, memory and experiences. There’s a theory that, if you miss one of these 90-minute cycles, then a 25-minute nap is enough to make up for it.

Of course nothing is ever as good as a proper night’s sleep. Sleeping in at the weekend is not a great idea, because all it does is make things worse for the following night. If you’ve slept badly all week, then trying to stay in bed all day on Saturday to make up for it means you’re storing up problems by upsetting your rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle our bodies work on, and it means that your body knows when it’s time to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up. At bedtime, the body starts to release the hormone melatonin to encourage slumber, which makes you feel sleepy, and towards the morning melatonin levels drop and cortisol levels rise, getting us ready for the day.

However this rhythm is easily disrupted, which means our sleep is then disrupted. One of the most important things for a good night’s sleep is to establish and keep a routine. If you need eight hours sleep and you need to be up by 7am, then try and go to bed at 11pm every night.

If you don’t manage enough sleep during the week, the best thing you can do at the weekend is to try and keep the routine you want to keep so still go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 7am, rather than trying to sleep for hours and hours longer, as this is more likely to help you get the sleep you need in the long-run.

Having said that, a well-timed nap can certainly help. Just make sure you keep it short.

Sleeping In Will Make The Problem Worse

Lisa Artis, sleep expert from The Sleep Council

A few nights of lost sleep can have adverse effects, including increased daytime sleepiness, worsened daytime performance and an increase in inflammation and impaired blood sugar regulation. Trying to make it up over the weekend won’t reverse all the effects of lost sleep during the week and, by affecting your normal go-to-bed-get-up routine, it’s also likely to impact on sleep quality so it’s a vicious circle.

Having said that, if you have one bad night’s sleep, it is possible to make it up the following night by going to bed earlier or sleeping a little longer.

Daytime napping isn’t a good idea either, particularly if you regularly experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night as it will likely make these problems worse.

However if you haven’t slept well one night, a short kip of no more than 30 minutes can give you as much energy as two cups of coffee in the short term.

‘But don’t make it a regular thing if you find yourself napping every day, then the chances are you need to improve the quality of the sleep you’re getting at night. When we talk about what constitutes a good night’s sleep, we talk about sleep quality rather than quantity. There is research to show that interrupted sleep is as bad for you as not sleeping enough.

‘However it does depend on why you’re waking up if it’s just to nip to the loo and you go straight back to sleep it’s fine, but if you’re awake for 20 minutes or longer than it becomes more of a problem. If you’re still feeling groggy and sleepy at 11am, the chances are you’re not sleeping well.

Trying to nap or sleep in to make up for it will only make the problem worse. Establishing a good routine is key to sorting out sleep problems.

The Art Of Napping

If you’re exhausted, there’s nothing nicer than a daytime nap to get you through until bedtime. But to get the most out of your daytime snooze, you need to do it right.

Choose the right time

Any time between 1pm and 3pm is ideal any later and you risk affecting your night-time sleep.

Keep it short

More than 25 minutes and your body will go into deep sleep, leaving you feeling more groggy than before you went to sleep,’ says Rob. Not to mention that anything longer means you’ll be affecting your sleep rhythm, which will affect your nighttime sleep.

Find a restful place to lie down, whether it’s the bed or the sofa, and make sure it’s not noisy.

Make sure the room is cool and close curtains or blinds. Light is one of the main factors that affects our sleep.

Research shows that we eat an average of 300 calories extra after a bad night’s sleep


Sleep is the glue that holds us together, so while we can repay the odd night of ‘debt’, in the long term, it’s dangerous for our health. If sleep becomes an issue, see your GP who can offer sound advice and help you out where necessary.


Simple tips to keep your sleep rhythm flowing nicely

Get enough exercise during the day. If your body isn’t tired, it will be harder to fall asleep at bedtime.

Keep a good routine. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every night to help your circadian rhythm stay on track.

Keep light exposure to a minimum at bedtime, particularly blue light from screens and phones.

Ensure the room isn’t too hot or too cold.

Make sure your bed is comfortable. Check your pillows and mattress if your mattress is eight years or older it might be time for a replacement.

Avoid screen time for at least an hour before bed.

Find something that helps you relax such as a warm bath, yoga or reading.

If you wake up in the night with a whirring mind, try writing down your thoughts. If you still can’t sleep, don’t just lie there get up and sit and read or just relax. Eventually you should drop off again.

Stay away from the snooze button! As tempting as it might be to have an extra 40 winks in the morning, staying in bed past your alarm will leave you feeling worse as your brain and body will be out of sync.


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