Sleep Debt and its Consequences
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What are the Consequences of Sleep Debt?

For healthy living, sleep is inevitable. One can list an abundance of benefits of having enough and proper sleep. Individuals feel the energy throughout the day which the brain needs to process, and store information. It improves immunity and metabolic health.

Importance of Sleep

When individuals lack sleep, they face serious repercussions, such as:

  • This may be hazardous while driving or working with machines, as it may cause accidents. 
  • It can also disturb one's working abilities as it may cause illness. 
  • Students who don't get enough sleep may be absent from school, causing academic loss.
  • Lack of sleep may increase the risk of heart problems, hypertension, and stroke. 
  • It can increase the risk of diabetes.
  • Less sleep is a hindrance to metabolic health and may cause weight gain. 
  • Sleep deprivation for a long duration can affect an individual's cognitive wellbeing and may disrupt memory functioning.

Sleep Debt

It can be termed a sleep deficit. It is the difference between the actual amount of sleep required by the body and the amount of sleep an individual gets. An individual may need a proper eight hours of sleep at night but can sleep for fewer hours. This is sleep debt. Generally, when there are commitments, social gatherings, binge-watching, etc., one may sleep less than required on a few occasions. Individuals can cover up this lost sleep. When sleep debt is accumulated, the body does not show signs of discomfort or tiredness. This is because the body gets adopted though there is a fall in mental and physical activities.

Understanding the requirements of the body and prioritising sleep is the easiest way to cover up the debt and care for the body. Sleep requirements vary from individual to individual. Children and adolescents need more sleep as they are in their growing phase, while adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

Generally, people sacrifice their sleep for some work or study to get better results, but they forget that insufficient sleep distorts cognitive functioning. Instead, having enough sleep will aid in better cognitive functioning and help focus on the work giving efficient and fruitful results.

Ways to avoid accumulating sleep debt

  • Scheduling your sleep hours allows you to get proper rest and work time. It allows you to give priority to sleep and provide sufficient rest to the body and mind. Slowly and gradually, one should change the sleep schedule if needed.
  • Follow a routine to sleep. Your body and mind should be calm and relaxed before going to bed. Create an atmosphere that can soothe your body. Dim the lights of your room, don't use electronic gadgets, and put on soft and light instrumental music to relax. Setting the alarm for the reminder is a great idea.
  • Monitor the activities that are done during the day. Avoid taking caffeine when about to sleep. Be vigilant about the activities that lead to disturbances in sleep. Try completing them in time.
  • Watch out for the bedroom environment. It is necessary to have a comfortable environment for good sleep. Check on the noises around you, for that may hinder sleep. Maintain a proper temperature in the room. Too hot or too cold can both be disturbing. Uncomfort can be because of the mattress, the bedsheet, the comforter, or the pillows being used while sleeping. If they are old and uncomfortable, replace them.

There are times when people cannot avoid staying awake. But one needs to plan to recover the lost sleep. It may be the need of the hour. Yet one can recover by being consistent and patient so that the benefits of enough sleep can be regained.

Covering the Sleep Debt

Take 10 to 20 minutes of small naps when you are asleep. It can make you feel relaxed and refreshed at the same time. An afternoon nap increases work efficiency, calming your body and mind. One can see an increase in work performance, memory, and other activities. 

One may be busy working throughout the week, so try taking enough sleep during weekends and holidays. This may not be so compensating, yet it can help overcome a little lost sleep. It can even help the body go back to its normal sleeping patterns. It may not be able to shed out the weight gain due to irregular sleep debt but may help the body to regularise. Something is always better than nothing.

While sleeping in for a morning or two may help, it's often not enough. Research shows that recovering the loss of one hour of sleep takes 4 days, and clearing the sleep debt takes nine days. If one can recover totally from sleep debt, it reduces the problems due to sleep debt. A 2021 study from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, shows that it takes a long time to recover from total sleep loss and its effects.

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Schedule your sleep and wake up time. Set a regular time to sleep and get up in the morning. Practice this even on the weekends to maintain consistency. It will help in synchronising the heartbeats. If you often experience irregularity in your sleep, maintain records to understand your sleep patterns so that one can track the deficiency. It will help to eliminate the reasons for the loss. People often feel a mid-afternoon nap is enough to overcome the deficit, but it is not true. Yet small power naps can help to rejuvenate the mind and body. It can make you feel refreshed and relaxed.

It is difficult to increase sleep time when one has a sleep deficit for a long time. Just increase your time to sleep gradually by 15 to 20 minutes until your goal is achieved. When the sleep deficit disturbs or distorts your functioning, schedule an appointment with the doctor. A doctor can help you recover from the lost sleep and even try to understand whether there is any sleep disorder like insomnia.

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This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.