Are You in Sleep Debt?

What was the first thought that crossed your mind this morning? If you’re like millions of other people, it was likely something along the lines of “ugh”.

Waking up can be a miserable experience, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, why would anyone want to be jerked out of a peaceful slumber by the startling beep of an alarm clock?

Few of us get anywhere near the amount of sleep we need. In fact, a 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation showed that the average American only sleeps about 6.9 hours per night. Considering that medical evidence and expert recommendations call for an average of 8 hours per night, you can see why we’re all a little groggy in the morning — we’re 66 minutes short!

Sleep Debt

66 minutes might not sound like the end of the world, but evidence suggests that each night of sleep deprivation compounds into what experts call “sleep debt”. This debt grows every time we don’t get enough sleep, and shrinks incrementally with each night of “extra” sleep.

You might think that extra sleep on weekends would be enough to pay back our weekly sleep debt, but even if we sleep an average of 10 hours a night on Friday and Saturday, that still leaves us 90 minutes short on the week. Considering Americans average a little over 7 hours per night on the weekends, the seriousness of the problem is evident — all of this together means we add around 7 hours to our sleep debt every week. That’s over 14 full days of sleep debt a year!

Sleep and Wellness

Can you imagine what this kind of sleep debt does to our wellness? Sleep is vital for a healthy lifestyle, and its benefits are numerous. A full night’s sleep:

  • helps improve memory
  • combats inflammation
  • spurs creativity
  • sharpens focus
  • regulates blood pressure
  • bolsters the immune system
  • maintains a healthy weight
  • reduces stress
  • curbs depression
  • increases energy.

Most cell building and repair functions occur during deep sleep. Routinely interrupting sleep or not getting enough can nullify or even counteract these benefits, wreaking havoc on our minds and bodies. Low energy, fuzzy focus, weight gain, and feelings of depression, sadness, and irritability all accompany a lack of sleep; yet many people continue to miss their “daily eight” and dig deeper and deeper into the hole.

How do we get out of Sleep Debt?

iStock_000016571705XSmallDr. Lawrence J. Epstein, Regional Medical Director of the Harvard-affiliated Sleep Health Centers, has a suggestion: quit thinking of sleep as negligible luxury, and come to recognize sleep alongside diet and exercise as a critical component of our overall wellness.

When we take on a proactive role in the regulation of our sleep, it’s surprisingly easy to begin taking the baby steps toward eliminating a lifetime of debt. Remember, the average sleep debt accrued per week is only about six hours. If you adjust your daily habits to bring your weekday sleep closer to eight hours a night, it might only take a few extra hours on the weekend to meet your weekly quota and start to chip away at the damage caused by years of inadequate sleep.

Give it a try – think of getting to sleep as an element of your daily wellness regimen.

  • Keep track of your hours and challenge yourself with daily and weekly sleep goals.
  • Maintain a routine bedtime and leave the smartphones and tablets away from your bed.
  • If needed, all-natural sleep supplements can help you start estabishing more normal sleeping hours.
  • On the weekend, go to sleep without setting an alarm. Wake up when your body tells you to wake up – it knows when you’ve had enough rest!

This simple shift in routine is all it takes to launch yourself on a path towards remarkable renewal. Let’s work together to stop waking up with an “ugh” and greet the day with a smile and abundance of energy!