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Can Sleep Banking Help You Catch Up On Rest? What to Know

You can put money in the bank for later use, but sleep isn't quite the same.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
4 min read
A woman sleeping in a bedroom during the morning
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Babies fight it, parents yearn for it: Sleep matters. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 30% of adults in the US don't get enough of it. Numerous recent studies have reported on a concept dubbed "sleep banking." But does it work? 

The answer is ... sort of. You're not really stashing sleep away for future use, as with money in a bank. But what you are doing, sleep experts told us, is replenishing the sleep debt you've already built up. Whether you use the term "sleep banking" is less important than striving for good bedtime habits and recognizing the importance of sleep.

Here's a look at what sleep banking is, what the studies say and tips from sleep-medicine experts.

Read more: The Ultimate Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

What is sleep banking?

Regular banking involves storing money until you need it, and sleep banking is an attempt to do the same with sleep. It's the idea that nabbing extra slumber right before you know you'll be deprived of sleep can somehow even things out and make that sleep-deprivation time less onerous.

Should you try sleep banking?

Maybe you know in advance that you won't be getting your normal amount of sleep soon -- you're starting a long journey, have a big project or final exams coming up, or you're expecting a new baby. If you practice sleep banking, you would strive for another extra hour or 90 minutes of sleep every night in the week leading up to that time.

Have studies shown that sleep banking works?

A recent CBS News article quoted neurobiologist Allison Brager, who cited 30 published studies supporting the concept. Their findings, she said, were that people who managed to get that extra hour or so of sleep for a week leading up to a time of sleep deprivation performed better on tasks than those who did not.

In a 2015 study published in the journal Sleep, 14 men aged 26 to 37 slept longer than usual for six nights, then had their sleep restricted. Researchers reported that "six nights of extended sleep improve sustained attention and alertness, limit the degradation of these two parameters during total sleep deprivation and improve their recovery speed." But they warned that the study involved only healthy young men, and might not be transferrable to the general public.

Sleep banking vs. sleep debt

"The idea (of sleep banking) makes sense," said Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a clinical professor in sleep medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He's also the author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions For Sleeping Through The Night.

But he's more familiar with what's long been called "sleep debt." Sleep debt is when a person regularly doesn't get enough sleep, thus accumulating a need for sleep. Pelayo suspects that people who attempt sleep banking and thus feel better are simply repaying the sleep debt they had built up. Nothing was really "banked," instead, they were low on sleep, and coming back to a normal level improved their alertness and attention.

"You cannot bank sleep," Pelayo said. "You're really paying off your sleep debt."

He noted that if you could truly bank sleep, travelers could bank so much that they wouldn't even need a hotel to sleep in on their journey, and could conceivably just stay up for days at a time. Outside of a Black Mirror or Twilight Zone episode, that's not possible or advisable.

"I'm not discouraging (trying to bank sleep), but realize what you're doing," he said. 

How much sleep do you need?

Dr. Sujay Kansagra, the director of the pediatric sleep medicine program at Duke University, says that adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, not the 6 to 8 hours that many people believe we need. 

Some people, dubbed short sleepers, can still perform optimally on less, but those people are rare. (Martha Stewart has always said she gets by on just 4 hours a night.) 

Tips for getting good sleep

Sleep banking might not be a perfect solution, but there are well-known tips for getting enough sleep so you won't feel you need to try such methods. Kansagra posts as ThatSleepDoc on social media, and is the author of My Child Won't Sleep: A Quick Guide for the Sleep-Deprived Parent. He advises those who are struggling to get good sleep to learn the four pillars of sleep hygiene.

The first is to maintain a consistent and soothing bedtime routine, perhaps involving teeth brushing, a shower, reading and meditation. "Relaxing things," Kansagra says.

The second is to practice good pre-bed habits, including avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine and trying to get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart rate going, such as a brisk walk.

A consistent sleep schedule is also important, aiming for that 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

And a comfortable, quiet sleep environment, with good air circulation and no bright lights, will also help.

More sleep tips

CNET has a roundup of viral sleep hacks that may help, plus a guide to using technology for better sleep. Some people like to use sleep trackers, and learning your "sleep language" may also help. And here's more advice for improving your sleep.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.