Did you know that between 50 and 70 million American adults have a sleep disorder? Sleep is one of the most important ways that we can take care of our bodies and our minds, however, many Americans have a difficult time sleeping or simply do not allow themselves enough time to sleep every night.
It is easy to assume that it is not a big deal to get a little less sleep than you need. However, not getting enough sleep can accumulate over time and have physical and mental health consequences.
Learning about sleep debt can help you understand why you should be prioritizing sleep. What is sleep debt, though?
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.
What Is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt is also sometimes called a “sleep deficit.” These terms refer to the difference between how much sleep you need and how much sleep you actually get. For example, if you only got five hours of sleep but your body needs eight hours of sleep per night, then you have three hours of sleep debt.
Sleep deficit is cumulative. What this means is that it can quickly add up if you get a little less sleep than usual for a few days in a row. Some of the most common reasons that Americans don’t get enough sleep are work hours, socializing, commuting, watching TV, and relaxing.
You don’t always feel tired when you are accumulating a sleep deficit. People can actually cognitively adapt to getting less sleep than they need. This means that they might not even really feel very sleepy even though they are experiencing declines in mental and physical performance.
How Can You Catch Up on Sleep? Recovering From Sleep Deficit
Now that you know what sleep debt is, you might be wondering what to do about sleep deprivation.
One of the most obvious ways to make up for lost sleep is to take a nap. Doing so during the day can help you feel more refreshed and awake. It can help to increase learning, working memory, and mental acuity for several hours if you take a midday nap.
Some people choose to sleep in on the weekends in order to catch up on sleep. However, it is not known if this can actually help to compensate for a sleep deficit. One study did find that the potential weight gain and metabolic dysregulation associated with regular sleep loss were not reversed by sleeping in on the weekends.
One of the issues with both napping and sleeping in on the weekends is that it can offer a false sense of recovery. Basically, you might feel a little better for a while but you did not necessarily make up for the lost time sleeping.
It is often not enough to sleep in for a morning or two to make up for not getting enough sleep during the week. In fact, some research has found that one hour of lost sleep can take up to four days to recover from. They also found that in order to eliminate a sleep deficit it can take up to nine days.
If you have accumulated sleep debt, there are a few things you can do to recover and get back to a healthy sleep schedule.
For one, it’s important to remain consistent with your schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even when you have the day off. This can help to resync your circadian rhythms.
You can also keep a diary to help you track any practices that are affecting your sleep and track your sleep patterns.
Taking a nap in the afternoon can help you to feel more rested, though, it is important to understand that it is not a replacement for lost sleep. This can be particularly helpful for people who cannot maintain a consistent sleep schedule or for shift workers.
It will take time to recover from a sleep debt. Rather than trying to oversleep by several hours for one night, try to slowly increase your sleep time over time until you reach the right amount of sleep for your body.
How to Avoid Sleep Debt
Avoiding sleep deficit is the easiest way to avoid the consequences of lost sleep. It is therefore important that you learn how much sleep your body needs. Then, you should make it a priority to get as much sleep as you need, as it is one of the most important ways that you can care for your overall health and well-being.
Different people require different amounts of sleep. However, most adults need somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Children and teenagers will require even more sleep than this in order to support their growing and developing bodies.
Getting enough sleep will help to improve your cognitive performance and allow you to be more efficient and focus while you are awake.
In order to avoid a sleep deficit, keep a set sleep schedule and develop a nightly routine. You also might think about what daytime habits you have, such as drinking caffeine too close to bedtime, that might be impacting your ability to sleep.
You’ll also want to improve your bedroom environment. Keep the temperature around 65°, make sure your bed and pillows are adequately comfortable, and block out any noises or lights that could disturb your sleep.
Some supplements can also help you fall asleep. Check out these melatonin sleep vitamin gummies.
Getting Enough Sleep Every Night Is Essential to Your Overall Health
Not getting enough sleep can lead you to build up a sleep deficit that can take much longer than you might expect to make up for. Sleep deprivation can cause a number of health issues, including a weakened immune system, mood changes, memory issues, high blood pressure, weight gain, and an increased risk of a number of diseases, to name a few.
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