It's never a pleasant feeling to be in debt, whether staring at a huge credit card balance or coping with the consequences of mounting sleep debt. Yet what does sleep debt really mean, and why is it a big deal?
It's a basic notion. Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep that you get every night and the amount that you should get. (usually about 7.5 hours of sleep every night for adults.)
Your sleep debt increases every time you change your daily sleep routine for even just a few minutes, in the same way your credit card debt increases every time you go on an Amazon shopping spree late at night. (No judgement, we've been there too.)
And if you suffer from the effects of sleep debt, you 're not alone: a report in 2020 showed Americans getting less than 6 hours of sleep every night. Yet even some sleep debt can be risky, resulting in long-term health complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated levels of stress and a weakened immune system.
The good news is that sleep debt is not permanent and while it is real, there are also practical options for getting out of a cycle of sleep debt.
You Can't Pay Off Sleep Debt on Weekends
It sounds good in principle to use your weekend to catch up on lost sleep during the week but it never pans out, according to a recent report from France.
Looking at more than 12,500 adults between the ages of 18-75, the study found that nearly one-quarter of participants had significant weekly sleep debt, which was described as having at least 90 minutes less sleep each night than they really required.
Worse, most couldn't make up for their weekend sleep debt. Over the weekend, only 18.2 per cent of participants with sleep debts were able to sleep enough to make up for their bad week. In other words, fewer than one out of five.
And why can't humans sleep in on weekends on average? Most of us, for one, don't have enough time. If you add up even an hour lost per night over a week of 5 days, that's five hours of sleep debt …. to cover in a weekend only. Poor sleep conditions can be another roadblock. These involve many common factors including noise, tension and the kids being at home.
Why Sleep Debt is Dangerous
The last thing you want to do is let your sleep debt pile up. Your body needs quality and restorative sleep to function in its best possible way.
Sleep deprivation is harmful. Just a little may lead to the following health conditions:
- Increased chance of Type 2 diabetes
- Weakened immune system (if you get less than 6 hours of sleep each night you are 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold)
- High blood pressure, hypertension
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gaining weight
- Increased risk of developing heart disease
Tips on How to Beat Sleep Debt
Hopefully, we haven't scared you too much; while the accumulation of sleep debts can be risky, there are still things that you can do. The following steps will help you stop falling into the cycle of sleep debt, making you happier, healthier and more rested:
Stick to a Regular Bedtime Routine
It is probably the trickiest tip to follow. You'll need a regular sleep schedule of 7-8 hours each night to eliminate the need to use the weekend to catch up on sleep ..
How could you do it? Here are a few suggestions:
Go to bed and get up every day within the same half-hour window. Plan it out, just like you'd do for work or exercise.
When you have difficulty sleeping, seek a natural sleep aid such as melatonin capsules. If you choose one with all natural ingredients, it not only allows you to sleep easier, but it is unlikely to be habit-forming (which prescription and even over the counter sleeping pills usually are)
Avoid Late Night Exercise
Make no mistake, it's great if you are working out. It's a fantastic natural sleep aid, as well. Nonetheless, one common problem for those who don't get enough sleep, is that they work too close to their bedtime.
Exercise increases your energy levels and leaves you feeling stimulated — two sensations that don't encourage you to easily fall asleep. Working out also increases your body temperature for about four hours and you want to stay cool before bed. It's a natural warning to your body to wake up when your body temperature increases.
If you're going to work out after work, go for it — but make sure you allow yourself a break of 3-4 hours between when you finish and when you intend to go to bed.
Take a Dip (in the Bath)
That may sound very counterproductive. After all, we just said if you want to give yourself the best chance to fall asleep and stay asleep, it's important to regulate your body and room temperature.
But there are some important reasons taking a warm bath before bed will help you fall asleep:
- Hot baths help to generate melatonin. Through the transmission of melatonin to the pineal gland, known as the sleep hormone, it takes less time to fall asleep, increases the quality of sleep and also the length of sleep.
- Warm baths help our muscles relax.
- Steam eases tension in the joints and makes it more comfortable to lay down.
- Warm baths help to bring down our internal temperature. Strange as it might seem, hot water actually allows the body to cool down by increasing blood circulation from your heart to your hands and feet.
You don't need to be in the bath long to reap all the sleep benefits, ten to fifteen minutes at most. And you'll be relaxing in general – another sleep booster and avoiding the blue light glare from your cellphone, which studies show can also impact your sleep when you expose yourself to it too close to bedtime.