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Everything You Need To Know About Your Sleep Debt

There may be days when we are unable to get proper sleep. It could be due to many reasons, including stress, an uncomfortable environment, sleep disorders, and so on. When this happens repeatedly, the lack of sleep keeps accumulating and soon enough we face sleep debt. The more you sleep less, the more sleep debt you will have. For example if your body requires 8 hours of sleep and you sleep for only 6 hours, then you will have a sleep debt of 2 hours for the night. The number of debt hours increases as the number of sleep hours decreases.

Often these sleep debts are then paid off over the weekend when we have more time for ourselves. That’s when we see our sleep and nap hours skyrocket. Even though this may make us feel rejuvenated, sleep debt in the long run is not healthy.

There are two kinds of sleep debt. Partial sleep debt is when we lose a few hours of sleep from our normal sleep cycle. Total sleep debt is when we are unable to sleep for almost an entire day. The later one has more serious consequences on our health and wellbeing than the former.

The impact of sleep debt

Sleep is a vital part for leading a healthy life. Lack of enough sleep can result in:

1. Fatigue throughout the day
2. Decrease in cognitive functions like attention, concentration, memory, and decision making
3. Weak immune system functioning
4. Higher risk for diseases such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes

Research also points towards the negative consequences of sleep debt. According to one study, sleep debt leads to poor cognitive performance despite getting adequate amounts of rest. Another study revealed that getting sleep on the weekends to make up for the loss of sleep during the weekdays does not reverse the metabolic dysregulation caused during the week.

Even though we may make up for the lack of sleep through naps and oversleeping on the weekend, they can’t help the body recover from sleep debt caused by lack of sleep at night.

How can we ensure proper sleep?

Just like how your sleep debt was not created in a day, the recovery can't happen in one weekend or with a few afternoon naps. It is important to ensure that we get proper sleep according to our body’s needs. Here are some things to know:

1. Sleep amount: it is important to know how much sleep one requires to feel properly rested and allow the body to remain healthy and active. The average adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Anything short of 7 hours can result in sleep debt.

2. Set a routine: Once we know the amount of sleep we require, we can base our routine from this. Our day’s schedule should be monitored around us getting the proper amount of sleep. A sleep and wake up time should then be followed everyday so that the body can get used to the natural circadian rhythm. This will allow all the other processes that help in sleep to fall through.

3. Sleep hygiene: It is important to maintain good sleep hygiene. Apart from a fixed sleep-wake routine, it is important to not engage with gadgets at least an hour before we go to bed. Instead, focus on doing things that can help our body recognise it is time to go to bed. Things such as dimming the lights, brushing teeth, reading, or doing a leisure activity that isn’t too strenuous or mentally exerting can calm the body and prepare it for bed.

4. Bedroom environment: The place where we come to relax and unwind is important. If this isn't comfortable our sleep won't be comfortable. The bedroom temperature should be cool, the mattress and pillow should be according to your sleep position and body requirements, the lights should be off, and there should be no distracting noises.

If you are facing sleep debt, it is still important to catch up on the remaining sleep through naps and over the weekend—even though it’s a short-term solution. But your long term aim should be to eliminate sleep debt altogether by setting up a routine and proper sleep hygiene with a comfortable bedroom environment. If stress or sleep disorders are keeping you from sleeping well at night, it is important that you consult a mental health professional.

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