Can you pay off your sleep debt in one weekend?
The concept of a sleep debt centers around the analogy of having a sleep bank account, where you can make sleep deposits and debits. It may even be an account with an institution that holds a minimum balance penalty. You can draw down on the account occasionally as long as you replenish it with fresh funds before the penalty kicks in.
But as the demands of contemporary life grow busier and more complex, many Australians are becoming heavier and heavier in ‘debt’ to their sleep accounts, losing between one and four hours of sleep almost every weeknight as they juggle the increasing pressures of emails, deadlines, personal finances, social media, and binge tv. These weary-eyed individuals sometimes try to repay their debts by sleeping in on the weekend, with mixed results.
The cost of our national sleep debt is taking its toll, with sleep-deprived Australians reporting a negative impact on attention levels, stress, coordination, and mental health, and at the same time an increase in daytime sleepiness and low-grade inflammation. The latter in particular has been increasingly linked to a range of unhealthiness, with heart disease high on the list.
An increasing body of research also shows that our collected accumulated sleep loss is having an impact on our waistlines too, as sleep deprivation alters our glucose levels, slows our regulated metabolism and increases our appetites.
So for the sake of our attention levels, our physical and mental health and of course our waistlines, it is vital that we learn to manage our sleep debt. Sleep experts agree that it is possible to recover from an accumulated loss of sleep, but that the Great Weekend Lie-In is not always the best solution.
“It may be better to tackle the problem gradually,” says Cheryl Fingleson of Cheryl the Sleep Coach.
“I see plenty of adults, both new parents and high level executives trying to overcome their sleep loss by binge sleeping on a Sunday, and its not always the best solution.”
“I usually advise clients to try and work off a sleep debt by adding incremental amounts to their nightly sleep pattern,” Fingleson continued. “So an extra 20 or 30 minutes on top of the usual seven or eight hours, repeated regularly, will make a more lasting and impactful difference to their overall wellbeing than cramming in the extra sleep hours on a Sunday.”
Fingleson also advises clients to keep up the practice of adding small amounts to their nightly sleep until they are waking up refreshed and unprompted before their alarm goes off in the morning. And finally, if this is still not enough, she suggests taking a short 20-minute nap before 2pm in the afternoon.
5 Best Ways To Catch Up On Sleep
1. Go to bed when you are tired
Start your bedtime routine earlier than usual and as soon as you feel tired go to bed.
2. Routine and environment are critical
Don’t wait until your eyes are sliding shut on the couch! Set a firm bed time, and stick to it. Disconnect all screens and devices, sleep in a dark, well-ventilated room and use natural linens. Drink a glass of water before bed and another when you wake up.
3. Be patient
Don’t expect to get ten hours sleep on the first night, or to make up for a huge sleep debt in one lazy weekend. Be patient. It may take your body two weeks to make up for one week of late nights.
4. Bank it up
Sleep as much as you can, even after you’ve recovered your sleep debt. Those increments of sleep will continue to benefit you as you pursue your wellness goals. Over time, you will find it easier to cope with future sleep debts when they occur if you have a decent bank of sleep to draw from.
5. Treat sleep like a doctor
Sleep has at least as much benefit (and possibly more!) than diet and exercise. Respect it and treat it as an important part of your health regimen. Protect your bedtimes and sleep routines like you would any doctors’ appointment.
Good sleep is critical to your health. To make each day a safe, productive one, take steps to make sure you get a good night’s sleep regularly. An all day Sunday sleep-fest might be a refreshing option if practiced intermittently, but overall a consistent and regular approach to sleep offers better long-term results for general wellbeing.