According to New Research, You Can’t “Catch Up” on Lost Sleep—Here’s Why That Matters

Your heart health deteriorates with continuous sleep deprivation, and a weekend sleep-in isn’t a guaranteed strategy to recover...

How annoying is the advice to get more sleep? It’s not like you don’t want a more restful night, but work deadlines and the laundry pile and a nighttime head full of busy thoughts are just a few of the reasons plenty of us miss out on sleep.

However, new insights from Penn State University published August 2023 in Psychosomatic Medicine show the impact of those sleepless hours: Your heart health deteriorates with continuous sleep deprivation, and a weekend sleep-in isn’t a guaranteed strategy to recover.

If you need permission to set a grown-up bedtime just like you set your morning alarm, keep reading.

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The sleep study

Researchers embarked on an 11-day inpatient sleep study involving 15 healthy men aged between 20 and 35 years. At the study’s start, participants enjoyed three nights of ample sleep, with a generous 10-hour window for slumber. This phase was followed by five nights of a mere five-hour sleep window. The study concluded with two “recovery nights,” when participants could again benefit from up to 10 hours of sleep. Throughout these phases, resting heart rates and blood pressure were monitored every two hours during participants’ wakefulness.

Anne-Marie Chang, PhD, associate professor of biobehavioural health at Penn State and co-author of the study, notes one outcome in a press release: “Only 65% of adults in the U.S. regularly sleep the recommended seven hours per night.” With evidence already indicating an association between inadequate sleep and long-term cardiovascular disease, Dr. Chang emphasizes the study’s findings as “a potential mechanism for this longitudinal relationship.”

Important findings

Throughout the study, the researchers noted a consistent increase in heart rate: It rose by almost one beat per minute (BPM) each day. Starting from an average baseline of 69 BPM, the heart rate reached about 78 BPM by the second day of recovery. Similarly, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading) showed an increase, growing by approximately 0.5 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) daily. It began at an average of 116 mmHg and climbed to around 119.5 mmHg by the end of the recovery period. That’s no small jump.

David Reichenberger, MS, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in biobehavioural health at Penn State, stressed the study’s implications, saying, “Both heart rate and systolic blood pressure increased with each successive day and did not return to baseline levels by the end of the recovery period.” Simply put, even after two nights of extended sleep, the participants’ cardiovascular health remained compromised.

Why it matters

It’s more than just heart health at stake. “Sleep affects our weight, our mental health, our ability to focus, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships with others,” Dr. Chang pointed out.

These findings suggest that our hearts really do feel the strain of those late nights. More surprisingly, a couple of nights of “recovery” sleep don’t seem to help your heart bounce back to its baseline. Your heart rate and blood pressure might not reset, indicating that the toll taken by consecutive nights of moderate sleep restriction could require a more extended recovery period than previously thought.

The next time you’re tempted to stay up late, remember: Those lost hours have a lasting impact, and the recovery might not be as simple as sleeping in on Saturday. Sleep, as Dr. Chang said, is not just a luxury; it’s both a biological and behavioural process—one that deserves your undivided attention for the sake of your heart and overall health.

Find out how to improve your heart health in six steps.

Quick tips for better sleep

The CDC offers several tips to enhance your sleep quality if you’re facing sleep challenges:

  • Adhere to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule, including on weekends. (Here’s expert advice on how to fix your sleep schedule.)
  • Optimize your bedroom environment: Ensure it’s quiet, dark, and free from electronic distractions. (Follow this sleep hygiene checklist before you turn in for the night.)
  • Refrain from consuming large meals, caffeine, or alcohol shortly before bed. (Some experts suggest a three-hour break between the final food you consume for the day and bedtime.)
  • Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of physical activity during the day. Regular exercise can make it easier for you to drift off at night.

Remember, if sleep difficulties persist, always consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

Next, check out 10 podcasts to help you sleep better tonight.

The Healthy
Originally Published on The Healthy