After one sleep-deprived night, I'm OK the 1st day, tired the 2nd. Why?
June 2, 2016 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Here's a pattern that happens to me a lot. Say I sleep 4-5 hours on Sunday night, instead of my preferred 7-8. I feel fine all day Monday, then sleep 8 hours Monday night. On Tuesday, I feel exhausted and mentally foggy. Is this pattern documented in others? Is there a physiological explanation?

I've experienced this pattern all my adult life. Let's assume it isn't mere confirmation bias, nor merely that I'm too tired on the first day to notice my own impairment. (The nature of my job tends to make it clear to me, on reflection if not right away, when I'm not doing my best.)

If it's relevant, I drink caffeine and am very consistent about how much and what time of day. (Two cups of coffee, both before noon; I don't increase consumption to battle tiredness as I've found that this has unwanted results.)
posted by aws17576 to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry if this is noise, but while I have no links/information, I've been told this is a thing on multiple occasions. So it's definitely a phenomenon and/or folk science, at least.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:47 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

It also just happened to me the other day, when after three hours sleep I felt AMAZING only to kind of ruin my life the next day.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:48 PM on June 2, 2016

Happens to me, too. I've always blamed adrenaline but I have no idea if that's anywhere close to a reasonable explanation.
posted by lazuli at 9:16 PM on June 2, 2016

Same thing happens to me quite often.
posted by unreadyhero at 9:16 PM on June 2, 2016


someone please come in and tell us why.
posted by too bad you're not me at 9:18 PM on June 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

I can't answer this other than to say that I often get the same thing, and just write it off as "sleep debt", which is a thing that is unproven, as near as I can tell. All I can recommend is that you look into "circadian rhythms", check your medication (if you are on any), check your exercise routine (if you have one), and perhaps try and identify if there are any patterns that make sense to you.

For example, feeling rested after only a few hours of sleep on Sunday night/Monday morning seems intuitively reasonable to me, because you've just had a couple of days off over the weekend and (potentially) had a bit of a sleep-in on Saturday or Sunday morning. And then feeling drag-ass on Tuesday seems intuitively reasonable as well because oh god four more days of this fucking bullshit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:23 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I took a class once and some sleep scientist came in and told us that you can carry sleep debt, but not for more than 24 hours. That's kind of a precise number, so I have to assume that it's an approximation. Anyway, it looked like it could be useful information here in some way.
posted by aniola at 9:25 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

As in, you can't "make up" sleep that's more than 24 hours in the past.
posted by aniola at 9:26 PM on June 2, 2016

To clarify, I chose Sunday, Monday, Tuesday just as an illustrative instance of N, N+1, N+2; I wasn't trying to make a weekend/weekday distinction (though turbid dahlia's interpretation sure is evocative!).
posted by aws17576 at 9:28 PM on June 2, 2016

I can power through (feel good, even) a day after a night of no/little/bad sleep, but the day AFTER that? Nope. Just as a data point that no, you are not the only one to experience this.
posted by rtha at 9:36 PM on June 2, 2016

Your cortisol will be very raised after sleep deprivation. That can make you feel more alert. But I think the "scientific explanation" is that the body is extremely weird, especially regarding sleep deprivation. All sorts of weird and contradictory things happen to me from different kinds of sleep deprivation scenarios.
posted by Blitz at 9:37 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a thing, and I'll also cite westward transatlantic travel which is functionally the same: you don't sleep on the plane, because it's not set up as a sleepover flight, and so you land at stupid o'clock in the timezone you left but it's just a long-nighter; however, the next night it'll whack you. (Eastbound transatlantic whacks you the first night because you're slammed into the next day and everything is wrong.)
posted by holgate at 9:54 PM on June 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Happens to me, too. I can stay up all night- which means a full 36 hours awake- and then sleep for 7, and feel fine the next day. The day after, though, I'll be more clumsy physically (my hands and feet get a bit numb when I'm tired), more moody emotionally, and a bit foggy mentally.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:42 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Happens to me, too. In fact, I'm banking on it tonight. I'd love to know the reason, as well!
posted by destructive cactus at 11:16 PM on June 2, 2016

Just happened to me this weekend: toddler up all Saturday night vomiting plus trip to the ER at the asscrack of dawn on Sunday and I still managed to go about my day on 2 hours of sleep. Got eight hours the following night and was a WRECK the next day, Monday, including a monster headache that didn't go away until Tuesday.

My bet is that cortisol is fine and helpful in the moment but not so in the longer term. So day one you're working on at least some adrenaline and day two, when that tapers off, you crash hard.
posted by lydhre at 3:29 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's my understanding that this happens because the first full night's sleep actually tells your body that the crisis is over, so it starts reassigning resources to healing and recovery, rather than just trying to maintain function.
posted by Francies at 5:58 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

anecdatally absolutely. the suggestions that adrenaline is involved sound pretty plausible!
posted by anotherthink at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2016

Sleep deprivation can trigger a mild hypomanic state at first but then the extra exhaustion catches up to you.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:26 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This may or may not have anything to do with it, and I might be completely misremembering what a sleep specialist once told me, and I'm reliably informed that this area is quite poorly understood, but I'll chuck this theory in anyway. FWIW, I've also experienced this, and have always thought it was to do with adrenaline getting me through that first day.

You know how there are different phases of sleep? Loosely, Stages 1, 2, 3 and REM. The night after the one where you didn't get enough sleep, your body prioritises stage 3 (deep) sleep and gives you more of this type of sleep, and sooner in the cycle. So even if you sleep a full 8 hours this time, you'll still get less of the other stages of sleep than you normally would. I can imagine that the type of sleep that you miss out on/get less of is the sleep that makes you feel refreshed - kinda like how a catnap can refresh you, but if you sleep for too long, you wake up groggy.
posted by pianissimo at 5:51 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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