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Can You Catch Up on Missed Sleep?

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I used to relish sleeping in on Sundays. No alarm clock, the iPhone charging in some other room far, far away, and I all I had to do was hydrate (take that, Mr. Mezcal!), fall into bed, and rise when my body was damn well ready.

Well, it turns out, my self-prescribed reset button was bogus. Not only can you not catch up on shut-eye, but that oh-so-glorious act of sleeping in can actually sabotage your brain.

A 2009 Harvard Medical School study on shift workers summarily squashed the long-held logic that you can pay off your sleep debt. In it, workers who were sleep deprived for two weeks straight (hereby defined as clocking less than six hours per night), were allowed to sleep for 10 hours. But when they tested their reaction times and problem-solving skills, they scored worse than workers who had pulled several all nighters. (Especially alarming for folks who operate heavy machinery, or exhausted first-year medical residents trying to make life and death diagnoses.)

If you do rack up sleep debt, just know you're screwed for a few days until your body's internal clock recovers. In the meantime, according to the experts at the National Sleep Foundation, try to rise and shine at roughly the same hours as you ordinarily would, and be sure that your requisite 6 to 7 hours of sleep are uninterrupted and of high quality—that is, keep your bedroom cool, dark, and as noise-free as possible.

High thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets won't hurt either.

Mike Dawson is a magazine writer and editor, and a regular contributor to Details.

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