Routinely losing sleep?
Find out the best way repay your sleep debt…
Getting enough sleep is central to living your best life—from staying safe on the road to being productive on the job. Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per day. So, what happens when you don’t make your sleep quota for the day and routinely lose sleep? These lost sleep hours accumulate and are known as your sleep debt. It’s a deficit that grows every time we skim some extra minutes off our nightly shut eye, and it adds up. Getting just two to three hours too little sleep for a few nights can have the same effect as pulling an all-nighter.
Over time those deficits can take a toll on your health, resulting in a lack of concentration, impaired judgment, irritability and longer-term effects including obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. When you’re in the grips of sleep debt, you often don’t even remember what it’s like to feel well rested, so you may not realize just how tired you are.
So what do you do if you’ve spent weeks or even years of your life logging fewer hours of sleep than you need? Just like with a credit card or a mortgage, sleep debt eventually has to be repaid. And the more you add to it, the bigger your balance. Unfortunately, sleep debt cannot be fully repaid by just one long extended slumber or a quick nap during the day. When it comes to paying down sleep debt, slow and steady is the way to go.
What is your sleep debt?
Sleep debt is the difference in the amount of sleep your body requires to function well versus the amount of sleep you are actually getting. The first step in tackling sleep debt is to know how to calculate yours. Experts agree that most people require around 7-9 hours. Once you’ve determined how much sleep you really need, subtract this from the amount of sleep you’re actually getting and this is your sleep debt. Not sure as to how much sleep you’re getting? Try a sleep journal to log your hours. Once you’ve determined your sleep debt, factor it into your daily schedule.
Establish a regular sleep routine and make gradual adjustments
You won’t be able to change your sleep schedule overnight. The most effective tactic is to make small changes slowly. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day – even on weekends! If you’re trying to go to sleep at 10:00pm, rather than midnight, for example, try this: For the first three or four nights, go to bed at 11:45pm, and then go to bed at 11:30pm for the next few days. Keep adjusting your sleep schedule like this. By working in 15-minute increments, your body will have an easier time adjusting.
Establishing a regular sleep schedule and sleeping a consistent 7-9 hours a night both during the midweek and on the weekend is your best way to make-up for sleep debt. Avoid trying to make up for it by sleeping in on weekends. Sleeping in too much on weekends can actually do more harm than good, throwing off your circadian rhythm – the 24 hour body clock that tells your body when to rest, and when to wake. This can make it harder to fall asleep on Sunday night.
If you find it hard to keep a sleep schedule, try our free sleep planner.
Be careful with day time naps
Like sleeping in on the weekends, napping can be a quick way to lop a few hours off your sleep debt. But also like sleeping in, if you nap too long in the afternoon, you might have trouble falling asleep at night. To avoid this, keep your naps short and sweet. A 20-to-30-minute nap, ideally between 2:00pm and 3:00pm is sufficient enough to make a dent in your sleep debt. Just keep in mind that while naps are helpful, they’re only short-term solutions. Don’t depend on them regularly to get you back on track. Ultimately, getting enough sleep at night is the answer.
When it comes to repaying your sleep debt, observe and follow your innate sleep clock. It might take time to adjust your lifestyle, but the payoff of attacking each day with the sleep you need is worth it. It can take days or even weeks for your body to return to a normal pattern or for those chronically sleep deprived, it may take a month or so until you fully recover those lost hours.