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What is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt, also known as Sleep Deficit, is the cumulative effect of a person not having enough sufficient sleep. The more sleep debt you have , the sleepier you feel. The less sleep debt you have, the more awake and alert you feel. According to medical experts, sleep is the third pillar of health after healthy diet and regular exercise. I would argue that is maybe the most important, as the other two are both hard to achieve if you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Why is Sleep Debt bad for me?
Your body needs sleep. One night without sleep won’t permanently damage you, but chronic insufficient sleep can lead to major behavioural and physical problems. Behavioral problems include-
- Poor judgement
- Attention deficit
- Memory issues
- Emotional stress
- Daytime sleepiness
- Drowsy driving
- Workplace Accidents
Physical problems include-
- Higher blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Advanced aging
- Reduced dexterity
- systemic inflammation
- Physical stress
- Immune system dysfunction
When your awake, a chemical called adenosine builds up in your blood, and when you sleep, your body breaks it down. Lose sleep however, and adenosine builds up in your bloodstream, making you more and more desperate to snooze. Your reaction time slows, which makes you prone to dangerous mistakes when driving or at work. Shortage of sleep is to blame for some 100,000 traffic accidents, 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths per year.
What are the symptoms of Sleep Debt?
The symptoms of sleep debt are pretty much the same as sleep deprivation. As your sleep debt worsens, you start to become sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is the condition of not having enough sleep, whereas sleep debt is the difference between what you need and what you get. So your sleep debt symptoms could include-
- Mood Changes
- Impaired performance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Behavioral problems
- Physical problems
How do I know I have Sleep Debt?
To figure out one’s sleep debt, you need a slice of mathematics. Take the number of nightly hours of sleep you should be getting, then subtract from it the amount of sleep you actually get. Keep records for a month at least, then look at the final amount. Those hours constitute your sleep debt for the month,and you can even work out for the year from that figure. So, for example, you should be getting 8 hours sleep per night, but your only getting 6 hours. For a month, you should be getting 30 x 8 = 240, but your only getting 30 x 6 = 180. Your sleep debt for the month is 60 hours. For the year just multiply by 12, so 60 x 12 = 720 hours. My maths is bad but I know from the earlier figures that your nightly sleep debt would be 2 hours in this example, or 14 hours per week.
Many people try to catch up at the weekends if their not working then, by getting in an extra 4 hours sleep, thereby reducing their sleep debt to 10 hours pr week. But lots of people just can’t manage this, so they carry over their sleep debt to the next week, month, even years. It gets very difficult to repay sleep debt once your over the 1 hour per night limit. One hour per night is the optimum figure that is used, before it becomes very difficult to repay your sleep debt.
Can’t I simply catch up on my Sleep Debt at weekends?
In a recent study on sleep, study participants were first evaluated in a sleep lab for 4 nights of 8 hours sleep just establish a baseline. The participents then endured 6 nights of six hour sleep (an average for someone with demanding job and active family & social life) The, they were allowed 3 nights of 10 hour catch up sleep. Some sleep debt theories were that the negative effects from the first 6 nights would be largely reversed by the 3 nights of catch up sleep. But this is not what happened. Some baseline levels, like daytime sleepiness returned to returned to normal after the catch up sleep, but attention levels didn’t. This was a big strike against the theory since attention, more than any other measurement, directly affects performance. This study proved that sleep debt isn’t just a hindrance, it’s dangerous and catching up on sleep at weekends doesn’t pay back your sleep debt!
How do I avoid Sleep Debt?
Avoiding sleep debt isn’t easy. We already know that Insomnia & sleep deprivation are at almost epidemic proportions, but we also know there are many things you can do to improve your quality of sleep, and therefore, your sleep debt. Check out the posts “9 weird cures for sleep deprivation” & “9 quick free fixes for sleep disorders” for great tips & tricks to massively improve your sleep quality. But as a quick reminder, I have listed some of the ways to avoid sleep debt, or some of it at least. You can try as few or as many as your like, or pick those that you think apply to you in particular.
1. Try to go to bed and wake up the same time.
By going to bed at 11 pm some nights, but then 1 am others, confuses your circadian rhythm and disrupts your body clock. It’s best to try and get to bed the same time and wake up the same time if you can.
2. Avoid Caffeine & alcohol
These both disrupt sleep. I won’t go into details here, but I have written about this in other blogs mentioned above. It may seem like a good idea to down some alcohol before bed and yes, it will get you to sleep, but I guarantee, it will wake you up and you will NOT be able to get back to sleep. There is also the added problem that Alcohol is a diuretic, which means additional journeys to the bathroom, and more disruption to your sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant which makes us more alert and less sleepy. It follows therefore that Coffee will keep you awake if you drink it too even 6 hours before bed. I do like my Coffee, but I have learnt not to take it in the evening. My last Coffee is usually 1 pm just to make sure.
3. Exercise Daily
Preferably early morning. Even a walk in the early sunshine helps. Anything that 1. Makes you tired for the evening. 2. Gets you some sunshine all helps with the body clock and hormones that aid sleep.
4. Dim all the lights
Some people go to their bedroom & bathroom and turn all the lights on fill. Noooooooooo! What are you doing? Your body sees light and thinks- “Oh, it’s time to get up, but hang on, I’m feeling quite tired, whats going on? I’m so confused”. Do you see what I mean? Buy a dimmer if you don’t have one. Another very important rule
5. Try to relax before bed
Hypnosis Recordings, reading a book, meditation, anything that lowers the heart rate & blood pressure. Deep breathing exercises are great for this. Try to calm yourself right down from the hectic day.
6. Invest in some sleep headphones
You may already have some earplugs. But are they fit for your purpose, some of these have wires that get entangles while your sleeping, or don’t eradicate external noise. You will need a decent pair of headphones, headband or earplugs. There are some great products out there. I have made a review of what I consider the best ones in my blog “Best Headphones For Sleeping”
7. Try daytime nap
Try this if you can. Experts disagree with this all the time. Some say it’s bad for you, some say it’s great. Me personally, I say, whatever feels right for you. Try it and see. If it works great, if it doesn’t, it won’t cause too much damage.
8. Sex & sleep only
Bed is for sex & sleep only, no TV, no discussing the family troubles, no worrying (I know it’s difficult) No phones (unless using for relaxing)
9. Take a break from shift work
Try to get to normal working hours if you can. I know so many shift workers who have sleep problems, mainly due to their shift patterns. This was one of the reasons I started having problems so I know it’s a major fact.
10. Try a daylight therapy box
Ok, you can’t get any sun in the morning because you gotta get to work. I get it. But you CAN buy a light therapy box and use it for 20 minutes in the morning before work, while you eat breakfast or get ready. This will help believe me. It’s all to do with internal body clocks and hormones. See my other posts mentioned above.
11. Ditch the electronics
Now, this is one of my “must do” items. Please ditch all your cell phones, tablets, lap tops & turn off the TV! You are NOT going to sleep well if your worrying what Samantha is upto at 2 am in the morning. Turn them all off. If you really value your sleep quality that is!
12. Write a worry list
This is for the worriers amongst you. I detail it in my other posts, but in essence, you write down all the things that keep you awake worrying about, put them in a drawer and visualize them written down on your list with the word “tomorrow” on it. You can now go to sleep knowing you will worry about them tomorrow (if you have to that is) It’s crazy but does work!
13. Natural sleep aids
Try Melatonin or Luna, both work to varying degrees for me. They may be amazing for you
14. Invest in a Sound Machine
A sound machine can be of great benefit if you are struggling with external noise, such as partner snoring, traffic or dogs barking. They play either nature sounds or white noise sounds and eliminate external noise so you get the added benefit of both problems being solved at the same time. You can also play hypnosis recordings if you prefer. I made a review blog post about them here with lots more information “Best Sound Machines”
15. Hypnosis book
I have had great success from reading the book and listening to a hypnosis CD from Paul McKenna. Sends me off to sleep nearly every time. Try it, or anyone else, I think you’ll be surprised.
16. Buy a comfortable mattress
I know this is obvious but if your sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, with springs poking you all night, your not going to sleep well are you?. We spend a fortune on our cars & houses, but sometimes very little for a piece of equipment so vitally important really! Check out my post all about mattresses
17. Check your medication isn’t affecting your sleep
Many medications actually bring on or worsen insomnia, so check your medications not one of them, if it is, try talking to your health carer and ask them to try a different type of medication
Thank you for reading my post. Please feel free to contact me using the comments section or the “contact us” page