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Answering your sleep questions | Verify

Naps? Sleeping in on weekends? We turn to experts to help you get better rest

WASHINGTON — The days following the beginning of Daylight Saving Time are also “Sleep Awareness Week,” so we’re checking in on common sleep myths, advice, and questions that keep us up at night.



Do you really need eight hours of sleep?

That’s the average: the NIH says most adults need seve to eight hours, some need closer to nine. The Sleep Foundation has a sleep calculator tool online that you can use to figure out bedtime based on factors like wake-time and age. 

Dr. Hassan Chami, a pulmonologist with Johns Hopkins, says you’ll know if it’s adding up.

"The main measurement is how refreshed they feel when they wake up and how alert they are during the day," he said, recommending adding more sleep in 30 minute increments until you find you're well rested.

If you aren't able to get your optimal amount of sleep at night, can you make up for that by napping during the day? 

“That's not the best kind of sleep recommended sleep behavior,” Dr. Chami said. 

The National Institutes of Health agrees. Naps may give a short-term boost in your performance and alertness, but it doesn’t make up for lost sleep in the overnight hours, which is most important for overall health. Napping during the day can also make it harder to fall and stay asleep at night.

However, operating while exhausted can be dangerous, so the Sleep Foundation suggests 20-30 minute naps as enough for most people to counter daytime drowsiness.

“The key is to be functional,” Dr. Chami said. 

Does sleeping in when we can, like on weekends, make up for missed sleep during the week?

“It doesn't pay off at the end,” Dr. Chami said. 

That's because all week you’re actually incurring a sleep debt--for example, every night during the week you sleep one hour less than you should means that by Saturday morning, you’re six hours in sleep debt.

The Sleep Foundation explains studies are inconclusive on whether sleeping in when you can really makes up for the negative health impacts of lack of sleep, or just helps you feel more alert in the short term. The organization cites research showing it can take up to four days of normal sleep to recover from just one hour of sleep debt, and up to nine days of full rest to reset sleep debt entirely.

It’s recommended to keep a bedtime within an hour of the same time every night to avoid racking up sleep debt and make falling asleep easier.

"If you're on a revolving schedule where sometimes you're aligned, sometimes you're misaligned with your circadian, it becomes very challenging,” said Dr. Chami.

Is it really a bad idea to sleep with the TV on?

“You may not like to hear my answer, but we definitely recommend against watching TV in bed,” Dr. Chami said. 

Before you blame the blue lights – any activity that gets your brain going, like reading or listening to a podcast – might keep you from falling into a restful sleep.

“The idea is to keep the association between bed and sleep only,” Dr. Chami said. 

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