In an ideal world, SNOOZE buttons and even alarm clocks wouldn't exist: We'd all sleep seven to eight hours a night—the amount experts recommend getting to prevent serious health concerns such as diabetes, hypertension and more—and wake up feeling naturally refreshed and alert. The reality: Many of us fall short on sack time (nearly 60 percent of SELF readers reported logging less than seven to eight hours a night in a recent survey, and 15 percent said they got by on a measly six hours or less), so chances are, we feel groggy and confused and we crave more shut-eye when the alarm starts blaring.
On the flip side, bingeing on sleep to catch up on missed zzz's can throw off your circadian rhythm, your body's 24-hour clock that plays a role in sleep and wakefulness, says Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., author of The Woman's Book of Sleep. Sleeping in—and hitting the hay that night later than usual as a result—also makes it hard to readjust to your usual routine, so you start the next morning in a fog.
So is it ever a good idea to ignore your alarm clock? Experts say yes! (And I say, Phew!) Here are three times you have the green light to hit SNOOZE:
You've racked up serious sleep debt Missed several hours of slumber this week? Rest assured—you can make up for lost zzz's, say experts at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Just don't try to do it all at once: Oversleeping by more than an hour disrupts your body clock. So rather than donning a sleep mask and ear plugs, locking your bedroom door and sawing logs until 2 P.M. on Saturday afternoon, allow yourself an extra hour of sleep each day over the next week until you're caught up.
Your schedule looks brutal If you're anticipating a particularly hectic week that's threatening to cut into your beauty rest, you can actually pay your sleep debt ahead of time, findings in the journal Sleep suggest. People in the study who snoozed more the week before they were sleep-deprived experienced less of a decline in their reaction time and alertness than people who didn't get extra zzz's. You can build up your sleep account by sleeping in, but the same circadian-rhythm rules apply: To avoid throwing your body clock off-kilter, don't vary your wake-up time by more than 60 minutes, and add no more than an hour of extra sleep a day.
You're run down and choosing between sleep and exercise I prefer to work out first thing in the morning—it makes me feel energized throughout the rest of the day, plus I don't have to worry about finding time to make it to the gym when my work day goes long or last-minute dinner plans pop up. But sometimes, when I've been burning the candle at both ends or I feel like I'm coming down with something, it's really hard to convince myself to get out of bed and lace up my sneakers first thing in the morning. And turns out, that's exactly when I should skip my sweat session and nab another hour of sleep instead: Insufficient rest could be as devastating to your health as poor nutrition or lack of exercise, says James B. Maas, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Not only are we more prone to developing all of the health conditions I mentioned earlier (diabetes, hypertension) down the road, we're also three times more likely to catch a cold if we sleep fewer than seven hours per night than if we get eight (sleep may help regulate the body's response to infection). Get sick, and you'll miss even more mornings at the gym! So set your alarm for an hour later if you're feeling worn down or exhausted, and give your body the rest it needs to go hard at the gym tomorrow.
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