Can You Bank Sleep? (To Improve Future Performance)

Today, we just don’t enough sleep. Our modern high-tech society seems to be wreaking havoc on our sleep time (and quality), and ultimately health and performance. The average America adult gets only six and a half hours of sleep per night and alarmingly 33% of the population gets less than 6 hours of sleep per night. One of the most common question I get from clients to offset their sleep debt is “can I just sleep more on the weekends?” It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately the current research suggests no… you need to be consistent with your sleep to reap the health and performance benefits.

However, new research is uncovering another way to potentially “hack” your sleep debt; adding more sleep before a period of sleep deprivation to offset the performance decline.

This could have deep implications for numerous clients; athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, soccer moms, policeman, fireman, etc. For athletes, the best practice for sleep is to achieve 10 hours per night (i.e. 70 hours per week), and not surprisingly, very few athletes achieve this dose. Therefore, “sleep banking” or adding more sleep in the run up to busy or stressful training period where sleep may be compromised is an interesting concept.

Researchers investigated the effects of “sleep banking” prior to a period of sleep deprivation to see if it could off-set the typical declines in cognitive and physical performance seen after sleep deprivation. They took 12 healthy men and extended their sleep for six days, assessing physical performance and neuromuscular function before (and after) one night of total sleep deprivation. The study found adding an extra two hours of sleep per night, over six days, significantly improved time to exhaustion during sustained isometric muscular contraction.(1)

The researchers speculated the positive effect of “sleep banking” was due to decreased perceived exertion from the additional sleep. They suggested sleep extension may be most beneficial for more neurologically fatiguing exercise, such as endurance and ultra-endurance, CrossFit athletes, marathoners or anyone who is chronically sleep deprived. Professional athletes crossing multiple time zones, playing back-to-backs, or during the latter stages of the season when sleep deprivation is more likely can be highly beneficial.

Interestingly, the authors published previous results on “sleep banking” impacts on cognitive function, which also showed positive results.  

The Bottomline: Using a “sleep bank” strategy by adding two hours of additional sleep for six days prior to a period of sleep deprivation may improve performance by improving perceived exertion of the training bout.

Sleep is the ultimate brain and performance “hack”; it’s free, it doesn’t require any special equipment, and you can do it virtually anywhere. Many clients, both weekend warriors and professional athletes, look for exotic and novel approaches to improve performance. While these can provide benefit, getting back to our ancestral roots and prioritizing fundamentals components of health – like sleep – yields surprisingly robust benefits in a very short amount of time.

Now go gets some extra sleep!


Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS