You Could Be In Sleep Debt
Are you in debt? And no, I’m not talking about money here, I’m actually talking about something much more valuable than money...hours of sleep. If you’re a modern, working class individual, chances are...you’re in deep sleep debt. Many of us will tend to skip out on a full night’s rest, several times a week thinking that it’s “fine”...”we can always catch up on sleep later”, but what if later never comes? When you’re shaving off hours from your sleep on a consistent basis, your baseline stress levels rise overtime leaving you in a constant irritated, moody and tired state. You start to get used to feeling this way 24/7 and maybe haven’t even considered that this feeling of malaise is actually caused by sleep debt.
Studies have shown that the ideal amount of sleep for most adults is 7 to 9 hours. If that sounds like a luxury to you...you might be in some serious sleep debt right now. The longer we stay in sleep debt, the more accustomed we become to the low-level confusion, slow thinking and general fatigue. To top it all off, those in sleep debt have a higher chance of developing harmful diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Sleep debt can be caused by certain medical issues such as sleep apnea, depression and epilepsy which can bring on bouts of insomnia. If that’s the case for you then treatment of these disorders is crucial to eventually paying off sleep debt. If you don’t have any known sleep disorders and are either opting to stay up late, are so busy that you don’t even have the opportunity to sleep or have trouble in general getting to sleep, then it might be time to take a step back and start your journey in repaying sleep debt.
Our body needs sleep the same way it needs water, food and exercise. Sometimes, however; our body won’t let us fall asleep for whatever reason, leaving us in overdraft. There is a neurotransmitter called adenosine that is a key player in regulating our sleep patterns. This chemical is released by our cells, enters our bloodstream and signals to our brain that we need to rest. The more energy we expend, the more adenosine gets released. The adenosine works by “turning down” our brain activity and dulling out our physical reflexes. We’re officially “zonked” and would love to just fall into bed at this point. Adenosine levels gradually drop as we sleep, so in the morning we feel refreshed and awake. This is how it’s supposed to work, anyway. When our body misses this signal to rest, we risk losing out on sleep, which we will have to make up later, also known as repaying sleep debt.
Circadian rhythm and sleep debt
Our circadian rhythm also plays a huge factor in giving us the signal to sleep. It’s a bit like an “internal clock” that tells our bodies when it’s time to “shut down” and take a rest (5). Our circadian rhythm used to be governed by the rising and setting of the sun. Nowadays, however; we are able to stay awake and active as long as we have access to artificial light. We get more work done, but are losing out on quality sleep. Many people are going back to their roots and installing lighting systems that naturally dim with the setting of the sun, in order to get back to a natural circadian rhythm.
By getting yourself into a consistent and natural sleep routine - going to bed when you feel tired and getting out of bed when you wake after 7-9 hours, you will no longer need to repay sleep debt as you will have a balanced and healthy sleep routine. Getting stuck in a cycle of sleeplessness can be very disheartening. It starts to affect every area of our lives and can cause some serious health problems if it goes on for too long.
Not getting enough sleep can have some devastating effects on our health. In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, a group of volunteers who only slept for four hours each night for six days ended up showing signs of high blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems, insulin resistance and lowered immunity. Only when they “caught up” on their sleep were these health issues reversed.
Another study from the University of Pennsylvania observed a group of volunteers who normally get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. The volunteers were separated into groups, who would sleep either 8, 6, 4 or zero hours per night for three days. The 8-hour group received the highest scores on the reaction time and cognitive ability tests. The 6 hour and 4 hour group, performed adequately in the beginning phases, but at the end of the trial period, were no better than the zero-hour group. It appears that 8 hours of sleep per night, truly is the magic number).
You are probably wondering how to get out of sleep debt. Here is our best advice:
For starters - don’t sleep in at the weekends - this can lead to even more disordered sleep during the week. It’s far better to fall into a consistent sleep routine and feel refreshed every day, than go through the week like a zombie and catch up at the weekend. Try to go to bed at the same time every night (when you feel drowsy) and wake at the same time every day. It’s hard to get into this routine at first, but once you do, it will be worth it.
Here’s how to get out of sleep debt without the weekend lie-in
1. Track it to find your circadian rhythm
Knowledge is power. Try tracking how many hours of sleep you’re getting and then record how you’re feeling during the day. This is a great way to find out how many hours you really need in order to get your energy stores up and then every night, aim for that set amount of hours. It’s also a great way to find out when it is best for you to go to bed and wake up - essentially, to find out what your circadian rhythm is.
2. Take a recovery nap
Whilst we don’t recommend repaying sleep debt with weekend lie-ins, closing your eyes is a great technique in the game of paying off sleep debt. When that adenosine surge hits and you have the opportunity to nap, go for it. Just make sure you don’t turn it into a longer-than-planned snooze fest. Sleep Coach, Nick Littlehales recommends to always nap before 2pm and for no longer than 30 minutes. Our CEO and founder, Richard, shares his advice for power napping your way to a better night's sleep here. For an optimum nap - have a coffee beforehand, Go for espresso as a good, quick fix – so that it takes effect towards the end of your nap, or controlled recovery period (CRP). Don’t sip a hot coffee - you need to get the caffeine down you quickly so that it takes effect after your nap. After your nap, Nick recommends taking five minutes to become aware of your surroundings and hydrate. You want to make sure you’re tired enough to go to bed at your usual time and keep your circadian rhythm intact.
3. Eliminate the habits that make you stay up late
The cumulation of sleep debt is often due to lifestyle choices and habits. Take a good look at how you run your life, what’s keeping you from getting proper sleep and take the necessary steps to eliminate the obstacles in your way to getting quality rest and repaying sleep debt. Be sure to eliminate artificial light before bed (which can interfere with your circadian rhythm), avoid caffeine, alcohol and strenuous exercise and take care of any sleep-related disorders that might be causing restless sleep. Have a set time everyday where you put your phone and laptop away and focus solely on getting ready for bed. With these lifestyle changes, you’ll be paying off sleep debt in no time.
4. Take a natural sleep aid
A natural sleep aid can help you get back into a healthy sleep pattern so that you never have to think about repaying sleep debt again. Magnesium, 5HTP, tryptophan and Montmorency cherry are all natural supplements that effectively aid the three sleep: falling asleep, quality sleep, and wakefulness - feeling refreshed and ready to face the day the next morning.
If you’re deep in debt, Neuro Rest, along with the tips mentioned above, can help get you back to a healthy sleep routine. Neuro Rest features ingredients like magnesium, L-tryptophan, 5-HTP, Chamomile and L-taurine to calm your nerves and get you ready for a good night’s sleep.
Visit the Utmost Me Sleep Blog for more articles on everything related to sleep; from bedtime routines to sleep nutrition.