Sleep Debt: What Is It And How Can You Pay It Off?
As children, the worst part of our day was bedtime. We’d kick, scream and moan at the thought of going to sleep. We’d jump out of bed at 6am, resist our afternoon naps, and insist we were thirsty at 7:30pm just to avoid being put to bed for one more minute. As adults however, we love nothing more than to cosy up for an early night, or to laze around on a Sunday morning after a long lie-in.
Unfortunately, it’s probably been a long time since someone brought you a cup of warm milk, read you a story and (forcibly) tucked you into bed. Without hiring a dedicated Sleep Guardian, whose sole purpose is to force you to get 8 hours sleep each night, most of us struggle to stick to a strict sleep routine. Whether it’s staying up late to hit a deadline, getting up early to take the kids to swimming lessons, or crawling into a taxi at 4am after a night of Jaeger Bombs – across the course of week, it’s easy to miss out on a few hours sleep here and there.
But the odd hour quickly adds up. Every night you don’t get the full 8 hours, you are topping up your “Sleep Debt,” which is a sure fire way to wake up still feeling groggy after a good night’s rest. New parents tend to be in debt, people who work overnight shifts will most likely have debt, and those of us who stay up late scrolling Instagram, we probably have sleep debt too.
Want to learn more? Keep reading.
How much sleep do we need, and why?
The optimum amount of sleep for an adult is 7-9 hours a night
When you’re awake, a chemical called adenosine builds up in your blood, and when you sleep, your body breaks it down. If you skip out on your sleep, the adenosine will begin to build up in your bloodstream. The more sleep you miss, the more adenosine you have in your system, which promotes sleepiness and will leave you feeling drowsy.
Plus, if you only manage to get 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, you deny your brain the chance to fully consolidate information, process memories, and repair your neurological processes. Missing out on just a couple of hours sleep each night can have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical wellbeing.
How to clear your debt
Think you can pay off your sleep debt by having a lie in at the weekend? Think again.
If you’re under-sleeping by just one hour Monday through Friday, you’ll end up with five hours of debt by the time Saturday rolls around. Then, by catching up on those five hours over the weekend, you’ll throw your regular snoozing schedule out of whack and ultimately make it harder to fall asleep on a Sunday, leading to more sleep debt by Monday morning.
In the case of sleep debt, prevention is better than cure. Sleeping a consistent 7-9 hours per night is the best way to avoid building up debt - there’s no way around it! If you regularly struggle to get a good night’s rest, here are a few tips on how to steer clear of sleep debt for good:
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even the weekends. As you erase sleep debt, your body will come to rest at a sleep pattern that is specific to you.
- Create a sanctuary by ensuring your bedroom is strictly for sleeping only. This will psychologically trick your brain into knowing it’s time for sleep when you get into your bed. Bonus tip: Banish technology from your bed. Avoid late night Youtube video binges or stalking old schoolmates on Facebook; the blue light from your phone interferes with your internal body clock.
- Naps can help make up any missed sleep from the night before, but they also interfere with your ability to sleep at night and throw your sleeping pattern into disarray. Avoid napping for any longer than 20 minutes to minimise the effects.
- Do you really need us to tell you this one? Don’t drink caffeine after 3pm!
- Try taking Benenox Overnight Recharge before bedtime to help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
- Can’t fall sleep? Tossing and turning? Gradually shift your body clock by climbing into bed 15 minutes earlier every few nights.
- Address a long-term debt by booking a few days off work. Turn off your alarm clock and sleep until you awake up naturally. Ah, bliss!
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