Are you doomed from sleep debt, or can you get caught up? Scientific American offers hope.

It’s hard not to feel a bit chronically sleep deprived. I felt this way before the era of smartphones, when blue lights glowing in your face at night wasn’t a consideration. Trying not to doom scroll past a reasonable bedtime is an ongoing struggle for many of us, and it’s hard to imagine it’s not even worse for the younger generation.

At some point we mumble, “Okay, I really have to get caught up on my sleep.” But that begs the question: Is getting caught up on sleep even possible?

On the one hand, it makes sense that you could. From a purely mathematical average viewpoint, 8 hours of sleep everyday is 2,920 hours of sleep every year. It seems reasonable that you could shift some of these hours around and still come up with the same total. Add some here, substract some there, and Bam! I’m still getting my annual quota of sleep.

On the other hand, maybe sleep deprivation alters your brain enough that “getting caught up” never reverses those changes. If I go without sleep for a week, does my brain really recover afterward?

According to Scientific American, we can be optimistic about the idea of getting caught up. This is encouraging news. What’s especially nice is their advice on how to erase your sleep debt: Take it slowly, don’t expect immediate results, and pay attention to your body’s demands. In my case, it requires rather hard boundaries at times, but it’s completely worth it. My mental functioning is far better, and even my workouts are more productive. Or, as author Molly Webster says, “Finally, a scientific reason to sleep in on Saturday.”

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