Breaking Down the Science of Sleep Banking

It’s likely that we’ve all experienced sleep deprivation at some point. Whether it was caused by military selection courses, kids being kids, or nerves before the next big game, lost sleep can certainly detract from your ability to reach peak performance at work or on the field over subsequent days. Fortunately for all of us, the last decade has been a period of intense sleep research. Scientists are beginning to dissect the best ways to support your mind and body growth with high quality, restorative sleep. These scientists are examining how poor sleep can take away from proper brain and body function. 

Insufficient sleep has been shown to impact a host of critical performance functions, not limited to diminished attention span, decreased physical output, and disparaged mood. Many factors have contributed to the western world’s growing sleep debt, but several professions seem to have requisite sleep loss on a forecastable schedule, such as military operations, healthcare, and athletics. The consequences of sleep deprivation in these types of professions has incredibly high stakes. Peak performance is not only a desired level of output but a near necessity for the job description. High quality sleep has been shown to be one of the greatest “performance enhancing drugs” available, and the opposite is true for sleep deprivation. 

If you have a schedule with foreseeable sleep loss, you need not fret. Recent findings from some of the top sleep researchers has shown that sleep extension (i.e. sleep banking) “improved resilience on measures of performance and alertness during subsequent sleep restriction, and facilitated recovery thereafter” [Rupp et. al]. As an example, if you know you have the potential for a short night of sleep in one week, you can begin accumulating “extra” sleep beyond your baseline requirements leading up to your potential sleep loss. When that short night comes around, you will have put yourself in a position to execute at a higher level compared to a competitor who slept the same amount the night prior but did not bank their sleep the week before. 

If you don’t see a night of lost sleep ahead of you, you should still prioritize your sleep bank. In studies on athletes without predictable lost sleep, sleep banking resulted in major increases in performance, such as a 9% increase in free throw percentage, a 9.2% increase in 3-point percentage, and a 0.7 second decrease in timed sprints [Mah]. If you’re more into the non-physical performance benefits, you certainly won’t be left out. Sustained attention, task vigilance, and microsleep activity were all improved with sleep banking without sleep loss [Arnal].  


Arnal PJ, Sauvet F, Leger D, van Beers P, Bayon V, Bougard C, Rabat A, Millet GY, Chennaoui M. Benefits of Sleep Extension on Sustained Attention and Sleep Pressure Before and During Total Sleep Deprivation and Recovery. Sleep. 2015 Dec 1;38(12):1935-43. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5244.

Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep. 2011 Jul 1;34(7):943-50. doi: 10.5665/SLEEP.1132

Roehrs T, Timms V, Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos A, Roth T. Sleep extension in sleepy and alert normals. Sleep. 1989 Oct;12(5):449-57. doi: 10.1093/sleep/12.5.449.

Kamdar BB, Kaplan KA, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The impact of extended sleep on daytime alertness, vigilance, and mood. Sleep Med. 2004 Sep;5(5):441-8. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2004.05.003.

Rupp TL, Wesensten NJ, Bliese PD, Balkin TJ. Banking sleep: realization of benefits during subsequent sleep restriction and recovery. Sleep. 2009 Mar;32(3):311-21. doi: 10.1093/sleep/32.3.311.