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What Happens To Your Body When You Lose an Hour of Sleep

A neuroscientist shares what your body endures when the clocks change or you lose sleep for other reasons.

Whether you stayed up late watching your favorite show or had a night out on the town with cocktails and friends, straying away from your regular sleep routine is no joke. Of course, it happens to the best of us at times, but when you don't get enough restful Z's your body can suffer some pretty harsh consequences the following day. But what happens to your body when you lose just an hour of sleep? We spoke with Dorsey Standish, MS, a mechanical engineer, neuroscientist, wellness expert, and CEO of Mastermind Meditate, who shares exactly what happens when an hour of sleep is lost, along with how you can recover. Keep reading to learn more, and when you're finished, don't miss out on People Are 'Cricketing' Their Feet To Fall Asleep Faster—and Claim It Works.

What happens to your body when you lose an hour of sleep?

woman turning off alarm in bed

In instances such as daylight saving time, or on nights when you stray a little bit from your usual bedtime routine, you're likely left wondering what happens to your body when you lose an hour of sleep. After all, it's just an hour, right? Standish reveals when this hour of essential sleep is lost, you establish what's known as a "sleep debt"—and this debt can accumulate over time. So, if you hit the sheets 30, 45, or 60 minutes later than you typically would for a few nights, that lost sleep can add up fast.

The Sleep Foundation recommends adults aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep on a nightly basis. However, this can depend on the individual. It's important to learn how much sleep your body truly requires to feel well-rested and function to the best of its ability.

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How can you prepare when you know you're going to lose an hour of sleep?

When you know there's a night when you're going to break away from your usual bedtime, it's important to prepare in advance. "If you know that you're going to lose an hour of sleep during daylight savings time or because you have an early commitment the next day, it helps to go to bed an hour or more earlier," Standish suggests. "However, it's important to note that even if you go lay in bed an hour earlier, it doesn't mean that you'll fall asleep, especially if you are accustomed to falling asleep later in the evening. Plan ahead not just to go to sleep an hour earlier, but also to eat earlier and start your wind-down process earlier to maximize your chances of restful sleep."

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How can you make up for lost sleep?

woman daytime nap

Standish points out that taking naps or sleeping in a bit later can help make up for however much sleep you lost, but know that it can take several days to fully recover from a sleep deficit. "Some research indicates it takes up to four days to make up for one hour of lost sleep," she adds.

To make up for lost sleep the following day, a nap may be your new best friend. Standish recommends taking a 10- to 20-minute catnap or practicing non-sleep deep rest (NSDR), a term developed by neuroscientist and associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, Dr. Andrew Huberman. Essentially, NSDR consists of calming practices—such as yoga nidra—that help you relax and refocus. "Both have been shown to refresh cognitive energy and boost cognitive function, and NSDR increases striatal dopamine and supports self-directed relaxation," Standish explains.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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