Sleep Debt: What Is It & How Can You Make Up For It?

Dhruvi Modi , 21 Aug 2019
Sleep Tweet (Source: @dhruvixoxo |
Sleep Tweet (Source: @dhruvixoxo |

Sleeping is my favourite thing to do, however, if sleep debt was a credit card company, I’d be in big trouble. Despite it being the most relaxing activity a human can indulge in (I mean, my anxiety and stress are asleep too, right?), sleep can be elusive for many. Ever had the situation where you have to wake up early the next morning, but ‘one more episode’ gets in the way? 5 hours later you’ve finished the new season of Sacred Games, and you have to be at work in precisely 3 hours. Story of my life, LOL.

A lot of you might say, ‘I get 5-6 hours of sleep every night and look at me, functioning all fine’. Alexa, please tell them why they’re wrong. According to a study conducted by Harvard, adults should ideally get 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Every hour of lost slumber goes into a debit column. Unlike our bank accounts, however, we do not get reminders that it is time to catch up on our sleep arrears.

So, when the time comes to catch up on this much-required sleep, how can we go about doing it in a way that doesn’t mess up our schedules? Read on to find out how…

What Is Sleep Debt?

The thing with sleep deprivation is that you might not realise you’re suffering from it. Sleep debt is directly proportional to the onset or increase of health issues such as weight gain, heart disease, memory loss and more. Often times, the result of not falling asleep on time and thereby sleeping in late is sleep debt.

Let’s Talk About Sleep, Baby

Now that you know what sleep debt is, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? You might be wondering about how our sleep cycles affect us, so here’s a simple break down of what happens before we sleep.

Our body uses two distinct processes to estimate our ideal sleeping time. While yours could be 10 pm, your friends could be 12:30 am.

  1. Our body circulates a neurotransmitter called adenosine around the time we start feeling sleepy. It acts like a dimmer switch, turning off many processes in our brain associated with being awake: attention, memory span, your reactions to your surroundings.
  2. Secondly, our bodies send a signal from the circadian clock that controls our body’s daily rhythms. Most of us experience a pang of sleepiness from 12 am to 6 am daily. Not shockingly, we also experience sleepiness between 2 pm and 4 pm, that makes us want to take a nap.

How Can I Catch Up On Sleep?

There are some ways in which we can make up for all those hours we spent binge-watching shows or raving till dawn. Here are 3 ways you can get your sleep schedule back on track: 

  1. Settle short-term sleep debt one weekend at a time: Did you spend hours working overtime during the week that reduced your sleep hours from the optimum 7-9 per night? In such a case, make sure you take the total sum of the missed hours and split them evenly into your weekend schedule, and next week’s as well.
  2. Start with your bedtime: Sleeping late every night and waking up at noon the next day will result in the endless cycle of you going to sleep late the next day again. Hence, try going to bed 30 minutes than you normally would, and keep increasing this amount of time to adjust your body’s clock.
  3. Nap carefully: While napping is a healthy way to deal with your sleep debt on the short-term, it shouldn’t be stretched for too long. Power naps (twenty minutes or shorter) are a good way to be refreshed after!

So, when are you paying off your sleep debt?

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