I've repeatedly heard it said by sleep experts that one cannot "catch up" on missed sleep.[citation needed] The best explanation of that statement I've heard so far is that a lack of sleep has physical effects on one's health, and those accumulate and cannot be reversed. Paraphrased and simplified, each missed hour of sleep shaves off an hour of your life, or something to that effect.

[citation needed]: Most recently in some interview with Matthew Walker, but I've heard other people state similar things.

Apparently it doesn't work to sleep 6 hours during the week and 13 hours during the weekend; that won't equal an average of 8 hours per night for your body and will have negative longterm effects.

Clearly though, it must be possible to "catch up" on sleep in some sense. If I don't sleep one night I will feel like crap the next day; but clearly after sleeping well for a few nights after that I will feel fine again, so my body must have returned to some normal equilibrium.

So, what exactly is meant by the statement that one can't catch up on sleep? Taken as an absolute statement it would mean you'd accumulate a lot of missing sleep time over the course of your life, and I don't really feel like I've missed several weeks or months worth of sleep right now; so this statement must require some qualification.

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    Blunt Analogy: You can’t drink 100l of water now and expect it to last 50 days. You can’t consume all the energy you need now and never it again in your entire life. You can’t train as much as possible in your youth and wait for your body to built up muscle mass in adulthood. And you can’t run out of oxygen now and catch up later. – Narusan Jun 4 '18 at 12:05
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    Sure, but if I run out of oxygen now I'll be dead for the rest of my life. If I miss a night's sleep, I'm obviously not going to be tired for the rest of my life. That's where I want some qualification for that statement. – deceze Jun 4 '18 at 12:11
  • You actually start to catch up after waking up from sleeping less than the ideal time for you. Feeling drowsy is not a direct consequence of a backlog of tasks the body should have done during sleep, it's nothing more than your body's indicator of the backlog, and you can shut that signal down by taking stimulants like coffee. It's similar to the gas indicator of your moving to the red zone, at that point there is still plenty of gas left but you should fill up the tank at the next opportunity. It's not that there is an actual fuel shortage. – Count Iblis Jun 4 '18 at 14:29
  • Take e.g. Paul Erdős' use of amphetamines. – Count Iblis Jun 4 '18 at 14:41
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    A similar question was asked with a well received answer from a neuroscience standpoint at psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/868/…. – Chris Rogers Jun 5 '18 at 22:35

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