Have you ever heard the term “sleep debt?” If you have, do you know what it means and how it can impact your life? Thankfully, the following information will tell you everything you need to know about sleep debt and even consider whether it’s possible to catch up and repay your nocturnal debt.
What is Sleep Debt?
If your body needs eight hours of sleep to function properly and you only get five hours, you procure a sleep debt of three hours for that night. This debt is then compounded the next night when you once again don’t get enough sleep. This cumulative effect also called a sleep deficit, is known as sleep debt.
Why Sleep Debt is a Serious Problem
- Sleep deprivation affects daytime function. Sleep deprivation is believed to negatively impact all types of daytime functions. For example, it can lead to an increase in mood problems, such as irritability, depression, anxiety. It can also lead to short-term memory, poor concentration, and sleepiness.
- Sleep deprivation leads to other serious health issues. Not only can sleep deprivation cause the general problems listed above, but it can also lead to various long-term health consequences. Pain is worsened by poor sleep. It can also negatively impact blood pressure, lead to weight gain and cause the thyroid to function improperly, cause an increase in the risk of chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, and lead to changes in vital signs. Diabetes, cancer, and conditions like dementia or memory loss are also byproducts of sleep deprivation. Ultimately, it would be easier to name the medical ailments that aren’t impacted by sleep deprivation than to list the summation of those that are made worse or related in some way to sleep debt.
- Sleep deprivation can even lead to death. Although it is extremely rare, in some instances, sleep deprivation is linked to death. This is most common when disorders like fatal familial insomnia are present. This is an extremely rare genetic disorder that disrupts and fragments sleep to the point that a person can’t sleep at all and eventually leads to their death.
- Sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in accidents. Around 20 studies have been completed that looked at how sleep deprivation affects a person’s ability to drive safely. If you have ever driven tired, you know firsthand how significant of an impact sleep deprivation can have on your ability to react properly and stay alert behind the wheel. In fact, some studies have even revealed that sleep deprivation mimics the impairment that you would experience if driving legally drunk. Of course, it isn’t just the roadways where you are at an increased risk of having an accident if you are currently in debt to sleep. You are also more likely to experience an injury or work-related accident if you are overtired.
Six Sleep Debt Facts: What You Need to Know About Sleep Debt
1. Sleep debt is more prevalent due to societal trends. The why behind the prevalence of sleep debt into today’s society could be due to the excess demands at work, having on-tap availability, access to 24-hour entertainment, and an increase in social media activities. These are all elements of society that have cumulated within the last 40 years. According to a USA Today report, originally reported in 2007, American adults today get an average of one hour less sleep nightly than adults did just 40 years ago.
2. Sleep debt has been extensively studied. Sleep debt as a condition has been studied in numerous scientific settings. The Multiple Sleep Latency Test looks at how quickly individuals fall asleep. The Sleep Onset Latency Test determines how easily and quickly a person falls asleep. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a questionnaire designed to test subjects for sleepiness. The cumulation of these and many other sleep studies and tests have led to the conclusion that sleep debt and/or sleep deficiency is a real problem and a very real condition for those who suffer.
3. There might be a way to test for sleep debt. According to a Washington University study conducted in 2007, there might be an indicator of sleep debt found within saliva. The test checks for an increase in the activity of the amylase, which is an enzyme in saliva. It is believed that the presence of this enzyme could indicate a person is sleep deprived.
4. Sleep debt can age you. A study performed by the 2013 University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland proved a good night’s sleep allowed the skin to recover 30% more when compared with sleep-deprived people!
5. Most Americans are currently in sleep debt. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s study, more than a third of Americans are currently not getting enough sleep. This is not an occasional problem, either. They are sleep deprived more often than not.
6. Night shift workers are hit the hardest. Although sleep debt is a problem plaguing a large amount of Americans, shift workers seem to be the most affected by the condition. This is especially true when someone works a night shift and is forced to nap or sleep during the day or at other odd times. A study found that 20% of shift workers fell asleep during their night shift. By contrast, none of the shift workers working evening and afternoon shifts had this issue.
Can You Catch up or Make Up For Sleep Deprivation?
Can you actually make up for sleep deprivation by playing catch up? Well, yes and no. It isn’t instant, but yes, you can eventually catch up if you create a new lifestyle that promotes proper amounts of sleep and ensures your sleep is effective, meaning you don’t have any sleeping disorders that cause difficulty sleeping. By getting recovery sleep, which means one great night of restful slumber, you can lighten your mood and reduce the risk of all the negative factors listed above. In addition, by doing the following, you will begin to restore your body’s ideal nocturnal function:
- Pay Your Debt: You need to settle your sleep debt. Do this by adding a three or four extra hours of sleep over a weekend and then one or two each night the next week. This will help you repay your sleep debt. It’s important to realize that a long-term sleep debt, created by years of not getting enough sleep, means it will take you longer to repay your sleep debt.
- Go to Bed Earlier: Begin by creating a new bedtime routine. Move your bedtime up slowly, 15 minutes at a time.
- Put Value on Sleep: Don’t think of sleep as something you do only if you don’t have other things to do. Make it a priority. It is vital for your body to function properly, and without it, you are creating sleep debt and sleep deprivation that can lead to a host of other medical issues.
It’s important to remember that getting enough quality and effective sleep is vitally important not only to your physical health but to your mental well-being. Living in constant sleep debt is no way to experience life, but thankfully, you can repay your nocturnal debt and begin living your best life.
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