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Catching Up On Sleep - How to Pay Back Your Sleep Debt
Catching up on sleep isn’t just a matter of sleeping in on the weekend. In fact, the late nights or interrupted sleep you’ve been experiencing this week may not seem like a big deal. You stay up late to finish a project, you have young children, you are a shift-worker or you just can’t stop binge-watching your favourite TV show.
We’ve all been there. But that extra hour or two of sleep that you skip each night could be doing you more harm than you think. And you may not even realise how sleep-deprived you are.
In fact, medical evidence suggests that for you to operate at your best, you need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But if you’re like most people, you’re probably averaging 6-8 hours. Which means you have a huge sleep debt to repay. And it’s time to think about catching up on sleep.
What is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt is the difference between the recommended amount of sleep you should get and the amount of sleep you actually get. So, if you have a big project due on Friday and you’ve been staying up late trying to finish it, by the end of the week you may have accumulated 5 hours of sleep debt.
Or, if you have young children who wake you in the middle of the night and you end up staying up for a few hours then you may accumulate a few hours sleep debt. Not too bad if it’s a one-off but if it’s happening every night then you need to start catching up on sleep.
How Do You Know If You Need To Catch Up On Sleep?
In some cases, sleep debt results from insomnia, a sleep disorder or other underlying conditions that may require medical attention. But most sleep debt is due to burning the candle at both ends.
And unless you’re actually keeping track of the nights when you don’t get enough sleep, you may not even realise how much sleep debt you have banked up. Not only that, but you may not realise how much that sleep debt is affecting your performance.
You may think you can function well on six hours of sleep each night, but the reality is that you’re not performing well at all.
According to research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, your sleep debt is actually affecting your normal cognitive abilities. What’s more, the research indicates, that you may be too sleep-deprived to even know how badly you’re performing.
“Routine nightly sleep for fewer than six hours results in cognitive performance deficits, even if we feel we have adapted to it,” says Hans P.A. Van Dongen, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Penn’s Department of Psychiatry and author of the study.
“This work demonstrates the importance of sleep as a necessity for health and well-being. Even relatively moderate sleep restriction, if it is sustained night after night, can seriously impair our neurobiological functioning.”
If you know you’re not getting the recommended 7-9 hours sleep a night then start keeping track of it. Catching up on sleep is really important. Because while you may feel like you’re functioning fine on only 6 hours sleep, you could be performing a lot better.
Make a note of your sleep and wake times over a month and compare the total hours to the recommended sleep. You might be surprised how much sleep debt you have accumulated.
How Does Sleep Debt Affect Your Health?
You may think feeling a bit tired during the day isn’t a big deal. Or, you’ll feel better next week or next month. But the health consequences of not enough sleep each night can be debilitating.
After a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is the third pillar of health. But too often we see it as a luxury. Especially if you have small children, do shift work or have a stressful job.
You may think those sleepless nights are just a sacrifice you’re making for the short-term. But if you don’t start catching up on sleep you may be facing major health problems.
In fact, a recent study found that weekday sleep debt may lead to long-term metabolic disruption. Basically, sleep debt affects the way your body breaks down food and uses it to create energy. This may lead to or exacerbate type 2 diabetes.
The study included 522 patients and was conducted by Professor Shahrad Taheri, MBBS, PhD, professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
Professor Taheri found that compared with participants who had no weekday sleep debt, those who had weekday sleep debt were 72% more likely to be obese. And by the 6-month mark, weekday sleep debt was significantly associated with obesity and insulin resistance.
Not only that but lack of sleep long-term has been scientifically proven to lead to multiple health problems. For example, heart disease, stroke, depression, memory loss, infertility, and more. Catching up on sleep has never been more important for your health.
Can You Pay Back Your Sleep Debt?
The great news is that you can catch up on lost sleep and recover from your sleep debt. But it doesn’t happen in one go. If you’ve had a week of sleeping 6 hours each night, don’t expect a really good weekend sleep to make up for it.
Catching up on sleep needs to happen gradually. One hour or more additional sleep each night over a long period of time is the way to go.
5 Tips To Catch Up On Sleep
1. Go to bed when you are tired
Don’t try to push through. Start your bedtime routine earlier than usual and as soon as you feel tired go to bed.
2. Wake up naturally
Try not to use an alarm clock unless you absolutely have to. Wake up in your own time when your body is ready.
3. Be patient
Don’t expect to get 10 hours sleep on the first night you try to make up for your sleep debt. Be patient. It may take your body two weeks to make up for one week of late nights.
4. Bank it up
Try to bank up 10 hours of sleep per night if you can. Then, over time, when your body has fully recovered, you’ll find that you only need the recommended 7-9 hours sleep each night.
5. Practice healthy sleep hygiene
Even after you have recovered your sleep debt make good sleep hygiene part of your life. Check out our great tips for sleeping better.
Remember that sleep is the third pillar of health. Treat sleep with as much respect as you would diet and exercise.
Finally, if you think your sleep debt is related to a sleep disorder do something about it today. The negative consequences of sleep-disordered breathing are serious. Treatment is so easy and life-changing. Call us today on 1300 246 637 (or submit a confidential email using the form here) for a free no-obligation chat with one of our friendly Sleep Therapists. Contact us now.