EXETER – Lack of sleep is bad for your health and you can't make up for sleep you've missed.

“Sleeping in on the weekend may help you feel better and more rested on the weekend,” said Dr. Brian Kossak, a sleep physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Manchester location. “The body will not recover if you go back to getting less sleep during the week.”

Kossak used a great analogy. He said trying to make up sleep on the weekend is like eating fast food all week long and then eating healthy on the weekends

“If you are sleeping well only on the weekends, it throws off the circadian rhythms,” said Kossak. “It’s like springing forward with the clocks. Your body is springing forward every single week.”

Dr. Anne Maugaran, medical director of the Exeter Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders, said most people need seven to nine hours of sleep, and if they do not get enough during the week, they will try to catch up on weekends.

“We have a homeostatic drive,” said Maugaran. “For every hour you are awake and for the hours you do not sleep, the body accumulates debt. Our circadian rhythms tell our body to sleep. If we do not listen, our energy levels will begin to flag. We see a slump in late afternoon because that sleep debt hits you. By Thursday or Friday, that debt can be painful.”

“If you catch up on sleep on the weekend and then begin to make sure you get a good night’s sleep during the week, the body recovers,” said Kossak. “Naps can help.”

Maugaran said it's ideal to get the same amount of sleep every night.

“Figure out what your optimal sleep is in that seven to nine-hour range,” said Maugaran. “Try to get that same amount every night. It is important not to have sleep deprivation. If you do, the biggest effect will be mood problems.”

Not getting enough sleep is bad for health. Most people realize that but still feel they cannot realistically get more sleep.

“The obvious result is that people will feel tired,” said Kossak. “A lack of sleep can also affect us cognitively. It can affect memory. A lack of sleep can have negative metabolic changes. It can lead to obesity, to diabetes.”

“Mood problems can lead to depression and anxiety,” said Maugaran. “Muscle reaction time slows and there is a greater risk of accidents. Cortisol level rises and can lead to cardiovascular issues.”

Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep are both bad. Kossak said for an adult getting less than six hours of sleep is bad, but so is consistently getting more than nine hours.

“In the last century, people tended to make sure they got eight hours of sleep,” said Kossak. “In the last decade or two, people were getting under seven hours. More recently, many of us are not even getting seven hours. The statistics on sleep between 1919 and 2019 are significant.”

For people who have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, Kossak warns against relying on sleep medication.

“Sleep medicine is a short-term fix,” said Kossak. “Unfortunately, a lot of the medical community doesn’t know that and there are a lot of prescriptions out there. The problem is that in the long run, it doesn’t work.”

What people need to do, said Kossak, is to make sleep a priority in their lives.

“People should make a plan for their day, list everything they need to do, and put sleep at the top of that list,” said Kossak. “Engage in quiet activities in the evening, like reading or listening to quiet music. Pay attention to the stress in your daily life and find ways to make it better.”

Televisions, computers and phones contribute to making it hard to sleep, said Kossak.

“We have not evolved to have a gene that requires TV to fall asleep,” said Kossak. “People tell me that they need that all the time. Screens of all types offer stimulating content and they emit light waves that tell us it is daytime, not nighttime.”

An app called f.lux (www.justgetflux.com) can help. Kossak said it changes the color, the mood of the screen based on the time of day.

Maugaran said that when a person begins to sleep well, it might not change the stress in a person’s life.

“It will change how you handle it, and for the better,” said Maugaran.