Sleep debt, also known as sleep deprivation, is the difference between how much sleep you need and how much you actually get. When you sleep fewer hours than your body needs, you have a sleep debt. Sleep debt builds up over time and can also have a significant negative impact on your health. You can read all about sleep debt, the consequences of not sleeping enough and more here.
What is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt is when you sleep fewer hours than your body needs. It's cumulative, meaning if you regularly sleep less than you should, you'll end up with more sleep debt. For example, if you get four hours of sleep when you should be getting eight, you have a four-hour sleep debt. If you do this for the next seven days, you have a sleep debt of 28 hours.
If you go to sleep 20 or 40 minutes later than usual for a few days, your sleep debt can quickly add up, even though it may not seem like you're losing much sleep. Therefore, pay attention to your nighttime habits and make sure you don't miss sleep by commuting, relaxing, working, studying or watching shows.
Consequences of Sleep Debt
Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on your health as getting enough sleep is very important for your overall health.
Consequences of insufficient sleep are:
- Feeling tired all day long
- You lose the ability to stay focused and efficient
- Your immune system weakens
- Your brain has a hard time processing and storing new information.
However, you don't always necessarily feel tired when you have a sleep debt. Research has shown that your body adapts to a chronic sleep restriction. This means that even if you don't feel sleepy, your body may already be experiencing a significant decline in mental and physical performance.
In addition, you are also at greater risk for the following conditions if you are chronically deprived of adequate sleep:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart and vascular disease
How to avoid sleep debt
To avoid the effects of sleep deprivation, you need to learn how much sleep your body needs and also improve your sleep hygiene. Keeping a sleep diary, developing a nighttime routine, rethinking your daytime schedule, and making your bedroom more sleep-friendly all help to avoid a sleep debt.
The first step to avoiding sleep debt is knowing how much sleep you need. This differs from person to person. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but teens and children need more sleep. Nine to eleven hours of sleep is recommended for children and eight to ten hours per night for teens.
Keep a sleep diary . Keep a journal or schedule where you can create a sleep schedule. This way you can prioritize sleep and make sure you get the rest you need. If you want to change your sleep schedule, do so slowly in 30 or 60 minute increments.
Develop a Nighttime Routine . Think about what relaxes you before you go to sleep so you get quality rest. For example, you can turn off your electronics, stop studying or work and dim the light half an hour before you go to sleep.
Rethink your daily schedule . See if there's anything you do during the day that could be contributing to your sleep deprivation. If you find something that restricts your sleep, try to avoid it or find an alternative.
Making your bedroom more sleep-friendly . You can make sure your bedroom is a good place to sleep by following these tips:
- Eliminate sources of distraction, such as objects that make noise or lights that can keep you awake. This also applies to electronics.
- Change your sheets, pillow or mattress if they are uncomfortable.
- Keep the temperature of the bedroom good for sleeping (18 degrees Celsius).
How to recover from sleep debt
If sleep loss is sometimes unavoidable due to life circumstances, make up for lost sleep by taking naps, sleeping more on weekends, and most importantly, rethinking your relationship with sleep.
Take naps . If you don't sleep enough, you can take a 10 to 20 minute nap. This makes you feel fresher and you are better able to perform different tasks during the day. Naps provide the following benefits for people with a sleep debt:
- Reduces fatigue
- Gives more energy
- Improves cognitive performance
- Makes you feel less sleepy
However, you can't rely on naps to make up for lost sleep. Naps can relieve drowsiness and make you more energetic, but they shouldn't disrupt your sleep schedule.
Sleep More on Weekends . You can also get more sleep by sleeping in on weekends to catch up on your sleep debt. However, it's not clear how much sleeping in can make up for the sleep loss.
Rethink your relationship with sleep . To recover and avoid a sleep debt, you need to rethink your relationship with sleep. Instead of thinking of sleep as a chore, think of it as a preventive medicine. Sleep can reduce disease and promote your health. You need to start seeing sleep as a vital part of your life and general well-being.
Pharmacist Dirk Christiaen
Founder of Metis Supplements