Sleep Debt: Are You Behind on Your Payments?
You’ve probably heard of the term “sleep debt” a lot in recent years. According to some, sleep debt is when your sleep is constantly interrupted. Supposedly, when someone has this sort of debt, it can lead to a number of mental and physical health problems.
The idea of having dept in the sleep department kind of makes sense. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re constantly borrowing energy reserves without paying them back.
But is this just some fancy buzzword within the alternative health community? Or is this a real thing? If sleep debt is real, is there anything you can do to repay your debt?
The Latest Sleep Buzzword: Is There Really Such a Thing As Sleep Debt?
The short answer is – yes, there is such a thing as sleep debt. This debt is the difference between the amount of time you should be sleeping for optimal health and the actual amount of sleep you get. Every time you miss a few minutes or a few hours here and there, the debt grows.
Millions of Americans experience sleep debt on a regular basis. Some of them suffer from stress, anxiety disorders, or panic attacks, all of which can take a toll on their ability to fall asleep.
Others have specific sleep disorders that don’t let them to get the light or deep sleep they need. Their sleep cycle stages are completely out of alignment.
Something like Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, for example, makes it difficult to fall asleep at an optimal hour. Instead, people with this disorder stay up really late and have an extremely hard time getting up and functioning the next day.
Another sleep debt culprit is Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome definitely falls under the category of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder as an intrinsic, or internal, cause of sleep deprivation.
There are also external causes, like working the night shift. This can throw your whole sleep cycle out of rhythm. And when this happens, you can experience:
• Poor job performance
• Sleepiness while driving
• Depression, anxiety, and irritability
• High blood pressure
• Lowered immune response.
Other contributors toward sleep debt include:
• Insomnia – restlessness, the inability to fall asleep
• Interrupted sleep – loud sounds like your partner’s snoring or noisy neighbors
• Staying up late and getting up early – anyone who has studied for finals knows this routine.
Is It Possible to Catch Up on Sleep Once You’ve Lost It?
In the past, some have said that it’s impossible to catch up on lost sleep – once it’s gone, that’s it. Others believe that sleep debt is like any other debt – with some work you can pay it back.
According to studies done by Harvard scientists, catching up on sleep that’s already been lost is nearly impossible.
However, nearly impossible and completely impossible are two different things. According to Scientific American, sleep debt can be paid off, though it’s not necessarily going to be easy. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can be one step closer to balancing out your sleep cycle stages and reducing your debt.
3 Steps You Can Take to Catch Up on Sleep and Reduce the Likelihood of Insomnia
If you want to start paying off your sleep debt and enjoying some restful, deep sleep each and every night, follow these steps.
1. Watch What and When You Eat
Stay away from simple carbohydrates before bed as sugars will give you a burst of energy that you don’t want. You should also wait a couple of hours between your last meal and going to sleep. Otherwise, you could experience heartburn and other digestive discomforts while you’re trying to sleep.
Regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep, as long as you do it at the right time. Engaging in high intensity workouts in the evening will give you way too much energy. Cardio right after work is fine, as long as you wait a few hours to go to bed.
3. Create a Relaxing Evening Routine and Stick to It
A lot of people don’t have an evening routine that’s conducive to sleep. They watch TV or watch videos, read, or play games on their smartphone or tablet, and then try to go to sleep right afterward.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t get your brain into a relaxed state. Your mind is still processing what you were watching or reading and it can be really hard to fall asleep. Try an evening routine that will get your body ready to fall into a deep sleep.
Here are some options:
• Turn off all media devices an hour before you plan on going to sleep.
• Drink some warm, soothing tea with herbs that calm, like chamomile.
• Read a book that’s not too stimulating, or write in a journal.
• Spray some lavender essential oil spray on your pillow, or put the oil in a diffuser.
• Try 10 minutes of deep breathing and/or meditation.
Paying Off Your Debt Always Feels Great In the End
Getting into any kind of debt is never fun. You’re constantly worried about how you’re going to pay it or if you’ll ever be able to pay it off completely.
Repaying your debt isn’t easy either. It can mean a lot of sacrifice. You may have to cut back on little extravagances. You might find yourself scrimping and saving and constantly calculating.
It definitely takes some work to pay off any amount of debt, but in the end it’s totally worth it. When you see that zero balance it feels as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
The same is true of sleep debt. It can take some work to find a solution that works. You may have to incorporate a number of different sleep solutions into your routine in order to make progress. But once you catch up on your sleep and notice improvements in your mood and energy levels, you’ll agree that it was all worth it.
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