Imagine feeling fresh and well-rested throughout the day after achieving a solid 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sounds like a dream, right?
But let’s face it – sometimes life gets in the way and you’re forced to function on minimal sleep. When this happens, particularly over a few consecutive
days, you may end up with a ‘sleep debt’.
What is sleep debt?
Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of insufficient sleep over a period.
The Sealy Sleep Census 2018
found 77% of Australians aren’t getting enough sleep each week.
While it’s normal to feel drowsy at times, could you be in sleep debt?
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Nodding off while watching a movie
- Lack of focus and staring into space
- Moody or cranky feelings throughout the day
- Excessive hunger and comfort food cravings
- Forever catching colds and other illnesses
Sleep experts say most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night
for optimum performance, health and safety. A little less than the recommended amount may not seem like a lot, but over time those minutes can add
up to a substantial amount of sleep debt.
The effects of sleep debt on your body
Sleep debt has an immediate impact on your body. After just one night of poor sleep, our bodies are flooded with cortisol
the stress hormone, which can lead to increased stress sensitivity, impaired decision-making skills and overall mental exhaustion.
Men and women aged from 25-34
are most impacted by sleep debt, meaning they are more likely
to skip exercise, eat more and be generally more irritable to co-workers, friends and family. Long-term effects of sleep debt may include an increased
risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Can you repay sleep debt?
In short, yes – but not in one big weekend slumber-fest. Doing so may cause more harm than good, as it can throw off your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake
cycle) and make it harder to fall asleep Sunday night – meaning your Monday morning may get out of whack.
Advice for repaying your sleep debt
Start with your bedtime
To get back on track, try to bring forward your bedtime by 15 minutes per night to gradually amend your body clock. So rather than trying
to sleep in later, go to bed earlier and wake up at your normal time. It can take a few weeks to establish a new bedtime routine and stick to it, so
if you find 20 minutes passes by and you are still having trouble falling asleep, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity such as reading or listening
Set boundaries with work and technology
Resist the temptation to check emails, chat on social media and generally stay connected between set bedtime hours. Spend the time before bed relaxing
and winding down. Invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock and unless there are unavoidable reasons for having a phone in your room, leave it at the
bedroom door; that is not what bed is for!
Try scheduling in a power nap
Studies have shown that a 10-15 minute "power nap"
can result in significantly
improved alertness, cognitive performance and elevated mood almost immediately after waking. The benefits typically last for a few hours and have no
apparent interference with night time sleep. But be careful – napping for too long
could be detrimental to the quality of your night time sleep.
Create a sleep sanctuary
There are many factors in a bedroom that can affect your sleep quality, from room temperature to an uncomfortable mattress or pillow. Your bedroom should
be calm, quiet and comfortable, so do a quick scan of your sleeping environment
and make sure its conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Make sleep a priority – and stay out of debt
If you’re someone who struggles with banking adequate sleep, it’s important to recognise that sleep is not an inconvenience, but a priority. When it comes
down to it, quality sleep is ultimately about your routine – experiment until you find what works for you.
If you make better sleep a priority, you’ll in turn boost your sleep quality, quantity and lifestyle.