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  • Jean Ang

Can I Pay Off My Sleep Debt?

Updated: Jan 14

While some articles purport to explain that it is possible to recover from sleep debt, I happen to chance upon this study that contradict their claim.

"Napping and weekend catchup sleep do not fully compensate for high rates of sleep debt and short sleep at a population level (in a representative nationwide sample of 12,637 adults)"¹

Sleeping in till noon on weekend sounds amazing, wonderful, shiok, especially for those who have little sleep on weekdays. In fact, it has become a norm since we deem to be paying back our sleep debt. But does it work that way? Do we honestly feel refreshed if we were to sleep a Saturday away?

The second chapter of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) foundational textbook is the "Yin-Yang Theory". Let's look at the yin-yang logo below:

The black is yin, the white is yang. There is yang (the small white circle) in yin and yin (the small black circle) in yang too. The black represents night, the moon, female, serenity, water/fluids amongst many, and the white represents day, the sun, male, active, fire et cetera. Simply put, there is a time to sleep and a time to wake up. Thus, according to TCM, you cannot just sleep the 'entire circle away', your body would just go haywire (imbalanced). To tell the unfortunate truth, you would find yourself more exhausted and drained if all you did was lie in bed the whole day.

Cue 'Circadian Rhythm'. "Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. Our physiology and behavior are shaped by the Earth’s rotation around its axis. This biological circadian system has evolved to help humans adapt to changes in our environment and anticipate changes in radiation, temperature, and food availability. Without this endogenous circadian clock, Homo sapiens would not be able to optimize energy expenditure and the internal physiology of the body."²

Weekend is definitely for rest and relax. I agree that one should slow down the pace of life, walk away from anything work-related, spend time with family members, go have a good breakfast, enjoy unwinding at home, or do some leisure grocery-shopping. However, to catch up on sleep for the whole or half a day justifying the need to recoup your sleep is neither exactly healthy nor wise.

It is important to keep bedtime and waketime relatively consistent across the weekend. Therefore, my answer to this question is 'no'. It is not very possible to eliminate sleep debt by making up for lost sleep.


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