We all have nights where we don’t get the amount of sleep we need. Maybe we’re worrying about a presentation or exam, or we’re thinking about something exciting happening the next day, or maybe we ate too much rich food. An occasional night without enough sleep isn’t a bad thing.
It’s when you regularly go without the right amount of sleep you start to encounter problems. You accumulate ‘sleep debt’ – cumulative sleep loss from night after night of restricted sleep.
Experts disagree on the severity of sleep debt. Some patients manage to survive perfectly fine on little sleep, and sleep requirements fluctuate with the seasons and social changes. Sleep researcher Jim Horne of Loughborough University argues that there are naturally-occurring changes in sleep cycles that shouldn’t be used to indicate the existence of sleep debt.
However, most experts agree that long-term sleep deprivation and sleep-debt can have severe economic and social consequences. People with a high sleep debt feel tired, irritable, and struggle to concentrate. They have more accidents and are more susceptible to illness. Research has even connected sleep debt with higher rates of mortality.
Can you repay your sleep debt?
Is sleep debt like a loan from the bank that you can repay to get yourself back to normal? If you’re in sleep debt for hundreds of hours (ie. you need 8 hours of sleep to feel restored but you only get 6-7, and it’s been this way for years) you’re not going to be able to ‘repay’ that debt and be fine. That’s not how sleep debt works.
If you want to feel more rested and wipe out your sleep debt, then the first thing you need to do is stop adding to it. Figure out how much sleep you need each night in order to make you feel well rested, and find a way to ensure you get it. You may need to go to bed earlier, change up the activities you do in the evening, cut back on caffeine or alcohol, or remove distractions from your bedroom.
Sleep aids from the Sleepezi product range can help your body relax and fall asleep easier. Look for products with natural ingredients that support the immune system without side-effects.
You may also find that a short daytime nap will help ease your sleep debt. If you can get the time for a 15-20 minute nap between 11AM-3PM, you may find yourself better able to power through the day until bedtime.
Our bodies are remarkably clever at making sure we recover from sleep debt. When you’re experiencing sleep debt, your body will compensate by spending more time in the deep, restorative phases of sleep. For this reason, it’s good to sleep for a little longer each night than you need, to give your body time to move through all stages of sleep at the right pace.
If you’re feeling tired, grumpy, and foggy all the time, you may have a backlog of sleep debt. Work on ways to get the sleep you need and if the problem still persists, speak with your doctor or a sleep professional.