If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
Sleep banking may be viewed as a countermeasure to reduce the impairments caused by sleep loss. Sleep banking is extending time in bed for a few days, before an anticipated period of reduced sleep, in order to improve performance during the subsequent period of sleep restriction or sleep deprivation. This idea is similar to the concept of carbohydrate loading to improve athletic performance for endurance events; that is, storing energy for future use. Also, another possible benefit is whether sleep banking can hasten the recovery from the impairments that developed during sleep deprivation after the sleep restriction period ends and regular sleep is now available.
Two experiments in adults suggest that sleep banking accomplishes both goals. In both studies, sleep extension (more time in bed) for six or seven nights before a period of sleep restriction was shown to improve vigilance and sustained attention during a subsequent period of sleep restriction, and led to faster recovery when the period of sleep restriction ended. However, others have suggested that sleep banking in the sense of storing or banking sleep for future benefit does not occur and instead, the results that were observed occurred because the period of sleep extension actually simply reduced the habitual or baseline sleepiness of the subjects.
Either way, if you are planning an extended holiday or crossing many time zones or anticipate a time when getting healthy sleep for your child might be more challenging like moving homes, imposing an earlier bedtime for a week before the event might help keep everyone better rested and able to recover faster when you return to your normal routines.
How long does it take to recover from insufficient night sleep? The largest study of sleep and performance, online, included thirty-one thousand adult participants over 18 years of age and examined three million nights of sleep. Insufficient sleep was defined as having less than six hours of time in bed along with a recovery period that extended over several days. “We find that, on average, it takes three nights to make up one insufficient night sleep and six nights to make up two insufficient nights of sleep in a row.” However, during the nights of recovery sleep, there were no constraints regarding sleep duration, and thus, it was possible that during the recovery period, some individuals had additional nights of insufficient sleep.
I asked one author, Dr. Zietzer, how fast recovery might occur if the individual actually obtained more than six hours during the recovery period. “I think that, based on laboratory studies, one could assume that baseline performance could be obtained after two nights (following one night of sleep loss) and probably three or four nights after two nights of sleep loss. If by ‘baseline’ performance, we mean an average performance after average sleep, then it’s probably one to two days of recovery per particularly bad day of sleep.” In other words, if your child is chronically a little short on sleep, the return to this baseline state might take one or two days of recovery sleep for each night of short sleep. This only applies to an individual whose baseline reflects mild habitual sleep deprivation.
On the other hand, “If by baseline performance we mean non-sleep-deprived performance, I think that most people would take a few weeks of good sleep” to more fully recover. This echoes my observation that well-rested children fully rebound quickly with a single reset (Blog Post 26) after an illness or holiday. In contrast, when young children who have been chronically short on sleep due to long-term sleep problems embark on a sleep solution, although it may take only a few nights to sleep better at night, but naps may not improve until several days or a few weeks later, to achieve full recovery.