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What is "sleep banking"? And can it help you feel more rested?

Quality sleep could extend your life, study finds
Study finds quality sleep could add up to 5 years to your life 05:50

Sometimes sleep deprivation can be hard to avoid, but a strategy called "sleep banking" may help you counterbalance it.

Whether you're planning a trip abroad or about to welcome a newborn, sometimes we know when we're going to lose out on sleep. Experts say sleep banking can help you make up for some of those lost Z's. 

So, how exactly does sleep banking work?

Allison Brager, neurobiologist and author of "Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain," says to think of sleep like a bank account. 

"The more you can put in, the more you can take out, and the more you've taken out, the more you have to put back in in order to get your balance back to normal," she says.

About 30 published studies that were conducted in the lab and in the field at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center have supported this concept, she says, explaining the findings show people who get an extra hour of sleep every day leading up to the anticipated sleep deprivation period perform better.

This is important because sleep deprivation can have serious impacts, Brager explains, including emotionally volatility and drops in cognitive and physical performance. 

"But people who are allowed to bank on sleep prior to that don't have this significant drop in performance," she says. "It's more of a slow, gradual decline during that time, rather than an immediate change."

Of course, having good sleep hygiene, which includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule of seven hours or more each night, is the ultimate goal and healthiest option — but sleep banking can help during periods you're in a pinch.

Sleep banking tips

Brager says the "golden rule" for getting a performance boost from sleep banking is getting an extra hour or an hour and a half of nighttime sleep — but she understands that's not always possible. That's why she suggests two other strategies for sleep banking if you're interested in giving it a try:

  1. Add time when you can
    On weekends or other days where you have more downtime, prioritize getting "as much sleep in as possible," she says, adding it's a strategy she's seen benefit firefighters she's worked with due to their unpredictable schedules. "We always try to encourage them to treat their rest days or their off days like a second job - using that time to get as much sleep and to make up on lost sleep and load up on sleep as much as possible."
  2. Leverage napping
    "If you're someone because of family constraints or just lifestyle constraints, you truly can't have an extra hour to an hour and a half to sleep in every day, you can take a 20 minute nap in the middle of the day," she says, pointing to research that shows how effective napping is.

Read more on sleep: 

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