Myth busted: This is how much sleep you actually need after one bad night

Most people think that if you have one night of bad sleep all you need to do is sleep a little extra the next night. Well, you would be wrong. According to a new study, if you fail to get adequate amounts of sleep for one night, your brain will need multiple days to make a full recovery.

How many hours do you need after a bad night of sleep?

The cognition of the participants involved in the study, published in the Plos One journal, who slept 30% less than they needed to for 10 consecutive nights did not fully recover even after seven nights of unrestricted sleep.

“Prolonged periods of sleep restriction seem to be common in the contemporary world. Sleep loss causes degradation of waking alertness as reflected in attention, cognitive efficiency and memory,” the authors write. “In this work we report on behavioral, motor, and neurophysiological correlates of sleep loss in healthy adults in an unprecedented study comprising 21 consecutive days divided into periods of 4 days of regular life, 10 days of chronic partial sleep restriction (30% reduction relative to individual sleep need) and 7 days of recovery. “

The authors noted a sharp deterioration in all of the relevant measures during periods of sleep restriction. For most of the participants, a week wasn’t enough time to make a full recovery.

The study indicated that people who work jobs in healthcare, entertainment, and transportation regularly fail to receive adequate amounts of sleep per night and that work-from-home schedules have complicated our relationship with productive hours and periods of rest.

“The disruption of the rest-activity rhythm is one of the common side effects of remote work,” the authors continued.

The sleep equation

The National Sleep Foundation recommends otherwise healthy adults try and receive between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

The organization reports that just one hour of sleep loss requires four days to fully recover. This is because sleep deprivation dramatically disrupts our circadian rhythm, or the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. 

Everyone has a different circadian rhythm that is informed by their proclivity to be either be more active during the day or during the night. This is what is referred to as a chronotype. There are four main chronotypes exhibited by humans, according to clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus,

The Lion (medium sleep drive): Roughly 15% to 20% of the population fall beneath the Lion moniker. Lions are driven and focused early risers that rarely nap and are most alert at noon. Breus recommends that this demographic try to wake around 6 a.m. and get to bed around 10 p.m.

The Dolphin (low sleep drive): Ten percent of the population accounts for the dolphin chronotype. Dr. Breus defines these as problem sleepers, with no specific time of day associated with optimal function. The majority of dolphins are insomniacs, as they more often than not wake up feeling unrested. Ideally, dolphins wake around 6:30 a.m. and get to bed around 11:50 p.m.

The Bear (high sleep drive): Members of this classification represent 50% of the population. They typically perform the best around the mid-morning to early afternoon, especially if they wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get to bed around 11:10 p.m.

The Wolf (medium sleep drive): Wolves account for the remaining 15-20% of the population. They’re impulsive, creative, moody night owls that don’t require a lot of sleep to function. If you’re a wolf, turn in at midnight and aim for a nice 7:00 a.m. wake time.

The authors of the new report recommend eliminating distractions like TV and internet scrolling before your scheduled bedtime to condition yourself to reach deep as soon as possible.

Read more about sleep affects your work performance.