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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
How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

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
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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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