No More Mistakes With Sleep Debt
When you get too little sleep, for whatever reason, you go into what’s called “sleep debt.” You can think of it like being overdrawn at the bank. Not only do you owe what you’re short, but it starts compounding interest from day one!
To be more specific, it’s the difference between the amount of sleep you personally need to get each night in order to function optimally minus the amount of time you actually slept.
Needed Sleep – Actual Sleep = Sleep Debt
Sleep debt (sleep deprivation) can lead to serious consequences. One research study by University of Chicago researchers found that volunteers who slept only 4 hours per night for six consecutive days had the following negative impacts:
- Their blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels were higher.
- They had signs of insulin resistance (a precursor of type 2 diabetes).
- They showed signs of a metabolic slowdown (causes weight gain).
- Their immune system was impaired – they only produced half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine.
Researchers also found that all of these problems were reversed when the volunteers made up the sleep debt they incurred.
Do You Make These Sleep Debt Mistakes?
Many people unintentionally create sleep debt by having bad sleep habits. They also try to pay back their sleep debt in ways that don’t really work. Are you guilty of making any of these sleep debt mistakes?
- Creating sleep debt during the week by going to bed late and getting up extra early?
- Keeping a different sleep schedule during the week than on weekends?
- Trying to catch up on lost sleep in a single day?
- Trying to pay back your debt by sleeping in late the next morning?
- Taking an evening nap (or find yourself falling asleep unexpectedly)?
The bad news is that each of these things leads to poor quality sleep, which creates even more sleep debt. The great news is there are easy, effective ways to get out of sleep debt!
Effective Ways to Get Out of Sleep Debt
First, you need to know that the amount of sleep you need to pay back your sleep debt increases if you’ve been deprived of sleep on one or more previous days. Second, daytime napping is the most effective way to get out of sleep debt.
1. Settling short-term sleep debt
If you had to work late, had social engagements that ran late, or just stayed up too late watching the rest of that movie you’d been dying to see, you have short-term sleep debt to repay. Let’s estimate that you missed 6 hours of sleep over the course of a week. To repay it, you’ll need to nap for at least those six hours over a few days.
To effectively nap without causing other sleep problems, you’ll need to get your naps in before 3 pm. If you work, this can be challenging! To accomplish this, you’ll need to get in a two-hour nap on both Saturday and Sunday, and then try to get to sleep 30-60 minutes early a few nights during the week.
Plus, the longer you’re awake on any given day, the more deep sleep for stages 3 and 4 you’ll need. So, it’s not just a matter of quantity, but quality. You need uninterrupted, restful sleep to pay back your sleep debt.
2. Solving the long-term sleep debt problem
The longer you’ve been occurring sleep debt, the longer it’s going to take to pay it back. You can’t just sleep all day for a couple of days, paying back slept debt has to be done gradually. It’s going to take days, weeks, and maybe even months for your body to catch up on sleep. This makes it almost impossible to do with a regular work schedule.
The most effective way to get out of long-term sleep debt is to take a “sleep” vacation. You can plan a trip somewhere, but you need to keep your activity plan light. The great thing about most hotels is that they have room darkening shades, so close them, turn off your alarm clock, go to sleep each night at your regular time, and sleep until you wake up naturally.
3. Don’t go back into sleep debt
The first thing you need to do to put an end to making mistakes with sleep debt is to figure out how much sleep you need (usually 7-10 hours per night), and block that out on your daily schedule. It’s your most important appointment of the day, and you cannot afford to be late for it! Next, you’ll want to regulate your sleep cycle. It’s easy to do by taking a few simple steps:
- Wear dark glasses or dim the lights before sleeping to prime your body to fall asleep quicker
- Don’t use blue light emitting devices like your phone, tablet, laptop, or TV for at least an hour before bed
- Remove all light and noise from your bedroom – close the curtains or blinds, turn on some white or pink noise, and slip on an eye mask
- Do to bed and get up at the same time every day – even on your days off
Putting an end to your sleep debt mistakes is essential for your wellness. Incurring chronic sleep debt raises your risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Researchers have even found that under certain conditions, disturbed sleep can alter gene expression.