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Can You Catch Up On Sleep?

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When we pull an all-nighter to study for a test or put together a presentation, we assure ourselves we’ll just make it up later—but can you really catch up on lost sleep?

The amount of sleep needed varies by person, but the National Sleep Foundation has settled on 7 to 9 hours a night. One-third of Americans aren’t even reaching the low number of that scale, and those who sleep less than 7 hours a night, on average, are considered sleep deprived. Unfortunately for them (or us), that sleep debt builds up … and it never quite goes away.

If you’ve lost more than five hours of sleep this week, or it’s been more than a few days since that sleepless night, you may as well cut your losses—gaining that sleep back is scientifically unlikely. Dr. Raghu Reddy, pulmonologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and a sleep medicine specialist, says the body can recover up to five hours of lost sleep; beyond that, the body has to scramble to adjust to the sleep deprivation, sometimes by skipping straight to the REM stage of sleep instead of wasting time in less-beneficial stages. Short-term sleep recovery is supported by Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center’s medical director Dr. Christopher Winter as well, who says that “recovery sleep in the short term does work,” but never specifies a duration for that short-term span.

Not that they encourage people to use those facts as an excuse to neglect sleep. A study published by the American Physiological Society show that sleep-deprived people didn’t improve on attention tests even after a period of recovery sleep. The test mimicked a normal week: six hours of sleep for six nights, followed by three nights with ten hours of sleep, and showed that that pattern doesn't negate the effects of sleep loss. A 2003 Walter Reed Institute of Research study corroborated this failure to recuperate brain performance with extra sleep; researchers said that “the brain adapts to chronic sleep restriction” and performs “at a reduced level” for days—or maybe even longer—after the sleep has been recovered.

Not only does it take longer than a few days to get back to normal after missing sleep; your sleep debt actually accumulates, and switching up your sleep patterns can throw off your ability to recover. UT Southwestern Medical Center’s sleep medicine specialist cautions against sleeping at different times every night, which would delay one’s circadian clock; instead, fall asleep eight hours before waking up for best sleep-recovery results. Lawrence Epstein, medical director of Sleep HealthCenters, advises months of regular sleep patterns to erase your sleep debt, and the previously-mentioned Dr. Reddy encourages “good sleep hygiene,” including relaxing routines before bed, avoiding stimulating activities or beverages (coffee, for example, and alcohol), and keeping strict times for sleeping and waking in order to keep your circadian clock happy.

Sleep is commonly sacrificed in favor of productivity or a fun night out, but sleep deprivation can lead to problems like declined memory retention, obesity, and early death. The good news, though, is that there are studies suggesting you can bank sleep in advance of snooze-less nights in order to counteract the sleep deprivation, which is helpful if you plan your sleep schedule carefully.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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