We’ve all heard of the phrase burning the midnight oil and most of us are culprits of doing this at one point or another during our lives. Whether it was preparing a last-minute presentation that you have to give at work the next day or having an all-night cramming session in the lead up to an important exam.
Whatever the situation, we have all experienced losing an hour or more of sleep here and there. But are these instances contributing to what experts call ‘sleep debt’?
When it comes to sleep, we should really treat it similarly to how we treat money. When we get the recommended 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night, we are saving. When we get less, we are spending our sleep allowance. For each hour of sleep that we lose without making up for it, we are essentially going into debt. For example, if you are getting 6 hours of sleep a night each week, you are building up a sleep debt of 14 hours.
Essentially, it is the deficit between the amount of sleep you should be getting and what you are actually getting. It is an issue that many people all over the world face on a daily basis. Yet, is there a way that we can get these hours of lost sleep back?
As we already know, sleep deprivation or lack of sleep increases feelings of fatigue and can make us feel more run down. While sleep loss on a short term basis, such as due to jet lag, won’t cause lasting effects on our health the same can’t be said for long-term sleep debt.
When we lose out on essential hours of sleep on a regular basis, it can lead to the development of conditions such as memory loss, hypertension, high blood pressure, weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Many individuals who don’t have a healthy sleep schedule also note increased feelings of depression and an inability to deal with stress.
The reason for this is because when we sleep, our bodies put themselves into a restorative state. If our body isn’t given the opportunity to restore itself fully after a day of working or looking after the kids, it won’t be able to function optimally the next day. That’s why chronic lack of sleep is a very serious issue and can lead to life-threatening medical conditions.
But we can repay sleep debt, right? The answer is yes. But just sleeping in on the weekends isn’t going to do the trick. In order to catch up on the sleep that you have lost, you need to be strategic.
Ideally, everyone should be aiming to achieve a healthy sleep schedule on a regular basis and prioritizing sleep. But it’s not always possible. So, what does it take to get your sleep schedule back on track? According to certain sleep specialists, for one hour of sleep deprivation, you will need to get a full night’s sleep to properly recover. So, if you lose 5 hours that means getting 5 nights’ worth of sleep to make up for it.
When it comes to repaying the debt, we recommend creating a healthy sleep habit to focus on. Initially, when you are trying to recover lost sleep you will need to tack a few extra hours of sleep each night. Aim to go to bed earlier each night and factor in approximately 10 hours of sleep. As time goes on and your body recovers, your sleep pattern will adjust itself to a schedule that is right for you.
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