Sleep debt or deficit is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. It is the difference between the amount of sleep you should get and the actual amount that you are sleeping. Current studies are reporting that 50 – 90% of Americans experience the consequences of sleep debt. Sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. It affects how you look, feel and perform at work or school. When we are sleep deprived the brain has to work harder to concentrate and retain information. It also becomes more difficult to problem solve and generate new ideas.
Causes of sleep debt
Today’s high paced lifestyle creates the lack of time that we allow ourselves to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2004 poll results found that the average adult sleeps 6.8 hours weekdays and 7.4 hours on the weekend. If you lose one hour of sleep per day by Friday you have a sleep debt of 5 hours. Over one year a person can accrue two weeks of sleep debt if the time isn’t made up over the weekend.
David Neubauer MD sleep expert from Johns Hopkins University and spokesman for NSF says “You need to value sleep the same way you value eating right and getting regular exercise.”Lack of sleep creates a vicious cycle of eating inappropriately. The more tired we feel the more caffeine and sugar we consume. The caffeine and sugar can keep you awake at night. Over exposure to technology such as television, video games and computers are also identified as a contributor to sleep debt. Staying up late to finish a movie, texting and talking on the phone can keep you from going to bed on time.
Create good sleep rituals
David Neubauer MD from NSF reminds us that “It’s important to maintain a regular bedtime routine as much as possible.” It will train the mind and body to act in a certain way at a specific time. This will help your body to create the circadian rhythm your brain needs to release the melatonin at bedtime. Spend time “winding down” at least two hours before bedtime. Stop all work, phone calls and avoid eating before bed. Don’t consume caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed which will interrupt sleep patterns also. It is best to exercise during the day to energize your brain and body. This will help you relieve your stress and to be more relaxed in the evening. Before bedtime take a bath, read a book or listen to some music. Sleep on a comfortable mattress in a cool, quiet, dark room to help develop healthy sleep habits.
There are many factors that can contribute to sleep debt. The more chronic issues such as pain, illness, sleep apnea or insomnia are more serious long-term sleep problems that can have adverse effect on your health. You should contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe a medication, suggest lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques or have your sleep evaluated at a sleep lab. Having a good day starts with having a good night’s sleep.