If you are wondering how much sleep should you be getting, the typical answer is seven to nine hours per night, according to The National Sleep Foundation. But be honest, do you actually get that much shuteye? Between work, and travel, and stress — and all the good things on Netflix — it can be tough to get enough rest. And as a result, it seems like pretty much everyone is constantly trying to catch up on sleep.
We promise ourselves we'll sleep in and "catch up" on the weekend. But the bad news is, that's not actually how it works. "Catching up on sleep is not as straightforward as it sounds," Chris Brantner, sleep expert and founder of SleepZoo, tells Bustle. "In fact, most sleep experts will tell you that you can't catch up on sleep at all — once you've missed it, it's too late."
Here's why: "Say you're getting six hours of sleep per night during the week because you go to bed late but have to get up early for work. You might think you can sleep ten hours a night on the weekend to make up," Brantner says. "[But] your body and brain need to get the right amount of sleep on a recurring basis to function properly. By getting short sleep all week, then sleeping in on the weekends, and repeating this process, your body will be in a constant, exhausted state of confusion."
However, if you can start following better sleep habits, and getting those seven to nine hours, "research indicates that you might be able to repay a portion of your sleep debt," Brantner says. Here are a few ways to get better sleep, and get through your sleepiest moments, until you can repay that debt.
1Get Up Early On The Weekends
If you're tired and sleep deprived, you might think the best course of action would be to stay in bed on the weekend, and snooze till noon. But that's actually the last thing you should do.
"The danger in sleeping in on the weekends to try and catch up on sleep is that if you aren't careful, it can throw your entire body off schedule and make it very difficult to wake up on time during the next week," Brantner says. Think of it this way: when Sunday night rolls around, and you can't sleep because you literally didn't get out of bed all weekend, it'll make waking up on Monday morning even more difficult.
So do yourself a favor, and "set a sleep and wake time and stick to them," Brantner says. "Your body craves routine. It wants to be able to expect when it's time to wind down at night and when it's time to wake up in the morning." And that's even true on the weekends.
2Go To Bed Earlier
Instead of sleeping in on the weekend, you should try to go to bed earlier, and make up for your missed sleep there. "That way you can jumpstart the catchup but still wake up at a decent time in the morning," Brantner says. "If instead, you push to stay up late and sleep in until 11 or 12 the next day, you'll have a hard time getting to bed that night, and you'll be all thrown off leading into the week." And that's probably not a good way to catch up on sleep.
3Take A Quick Nap
Even though you should wake up on time on the weekend, that doesn't mean you can't take a quick nap later on in the day — or even when you need to during the week. "Napping can help you catch up on sleep," Brantner says. But you have to be careful, since "timing your naps incorrectly can throw your body off."
To nap the right way, grab some shuteye in the afternoon, before 2 p.m. "This will keep your nap from affecting your ability to get to sleep on time at night," Brantner says, since it's not too close to bedtime.
And don't overdo it, either. "The ideal nap length is around 20 minutes," he says. "This keeps you in stage one and two of sleep, or light sleep. After about 30 minutes, you'll go into deep sleep and it will be hard to wake up. Should you wake up during deep sleep, you'll experience sleep inertia, where you'll wake up feeling groggy and tired likely for the next hour or two." To prevent this from happening, simply set your alarm for 20 minutes, nap, and then go on with your day.
4Keep Your Phone In Another Room
In order to get a good night's rest, you should really turn your bedroom into a relaxing, phone-free sanctuary. Keeping your phone in your room makes it way too easy to go down the social media and streaming rabbit hole, Brantner says. "Not to mention, the light from your phone makes it difficult to shut down and get into deep sleep. So keep your phone in a different room so you won't face the distraction later on."
5Go Out In The Sun
The thought of going out into the sun when you're all tired and bleary-eyed might not sound like a good time. And yet it really can help improve sleep. "This will recharge your system during the day and help you to sleep well that night," wellness expert Lissa Coffey tells Bustle. "Getting out in the sun helps the body clock to regulate by producing melatonin. Melatonin tablets are sold as a sleep aid — but it’s much better to get melatonin from nature than from a pill! The fresh air helps, too."
6Limit Your Caffeine Intake
This might sound counterintuitive — especially if you're exhausted and need coffee to get through the day — but try not to drink any caffeinated beverages. Or, at the very least, only have a cup or two in the morning.
"Caffeine is a stimulant that can make it hard for you to fall asleep, so try to make your last cup no more than three hours before bedtime," Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, a physician and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, tells Bustle. "If you need a warm drink before bed, try ... lemon balm and passionflower tea ... Other teas with valerian root and lavender will also help to down-regulate your central nervous system, meaning you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer."
7Make Your Bedroom Cool
To optimize your sleep time, and ensure that you're actually sleep well, it can help to keep your bedroom cool. "While sleeping, your body temperature naturally begins to dip," Milosavljevic says. "Sleeping in a room that is more than 68 degrees can make it much harder for your body to fall asleep. Setting the thermostat anywhere between 60-67 degrees will help you stay snoozing all night, without the constant battle with your covers."
Little tricks like these can make all the difference when it comes to catching up on sleep. But what you really want to do is get plenty of sleep from the get-to. Things come up — like travel, and late nights at work — but whenever you can, try to stick to those recommended seven to nine hours a night, and you should be feelin' fine.