We hear more and more about it; does sleep debt really exist? How can it be calculated? Can we catch on to lost sleep?
Unfortunately for us, many researchers say that sleep debt is real. The good news? It is possible to recover it!
How Does Sleep Debt Work?
What is the famous sleep debt? According to Biron:
"Sleep debt refers to the number of hours of sleep we are lacking at the end of each night. In other words, it is the difference between the ideal number of hours of sleep and the actual number of hours. These lost hours accumulate over the course of the week and represent our body’s sleep debt."
Bad news for Sunday sleepers, staying in bed longer than the norm on weekends wouldn't pay off your sleep debt.
But How Do We Accumulate This Sleep Debt?
There are many answers. You may have had to stay up later to catch up on a file at work. Your studies may require you to get up much earlier to study for an exam. You may have sleep apnea or another medical condition.
If in doubt, consult a doctor!
How Do I Calculate My Sleep Debt?
Evaluating your habits will allow you to put in place more effective actions to pay off your sleep debt. To do this, simply calculate how many hours per night you slept in 7 days versus the number of hours you really need.
For example, if you get up 1 hour earlier for a full week, your sleep debt will be 7 hours. If you keep this cycle, you will have a sleep debt of 28 hours at the end of the month. To make it easier, some websites offer a sleep debt calculator based on your age and habits.
Accumulating Sleep Debt: Alarming Symptoms
That's right! Fatigue is not the only side effect of a lack of sleep. In the short term, after a few days or a week of poor quality rest, you may experience, among other things, blurred vision, a feeling that your brain is "foggy", decreased reaction time, emotional distress, and even some memory lapses.
According to a CAA study, sleep debt could be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol! Missing 1 to 2 hours of sleep per night is enough to double the risk of an accident.
Unpleasant, isn't it? Now imagine the long-term risks of going without sleep. If you never catch up on your lost sleep, you could eventually suffer from cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, a weakened immune system and depression. And these are just a few examples!
Pay Off Your Sleep Debt
When it comes to "paying off" your sleep debt, scientists don't always agree. While some believe it is possible to pay it off, others question the effectiveness of changing your usual routine to get more sleep. In fact, forget about naps.
Establish a Good Sleep Hygiene
Your best option is good sleep hygiene. Unless you suffer from sleep apnea, in which case your best option is a CPAP machine! For the rest of us, consider regulating your sleep routine based on your reality. There is no point in going to bed at 9pm if you normally sleep around 11pm!
Paying Down Debt Over Time
You should also keep in mind that the speed of recovery depends on the debt itself. If you have been accumulating sleep debt for a long time, a simple week of rest will not be enough. You will have to aim for restful sleep over a longer period. Regularity will be your ally!
Of course, life is unpredictable and some situations are beyond our control. Without panicking at the idea of going to bed a little later on the weekend, here's how you can improve your situation :
Avoid exercise just before bedtime.
Don't eat too much before going to bed, you may wake up in the middle of the night.
If possible, don't look at a screen before going to sleep (I hear books are much safer).
To help you recover, try to improve your routine by adjusting the number of hours of sleep per night by 15 minutes.
If necessary, get a high-end mattress for a better sleep.
Understanding the Value and Specifics of Your Sleep
The most important thing is not to neglect the value of your sleep! Not only will the effects be devastating, but the general discomfort caused by fatigue should be more than enough to convince you to take care of yourself.
Above all, remember: everyone's needs vary. To feel rested, some people need only 6 hours of sleep per night, while others need 8 hours. It all depends on your biological rhythm!
To understand your cycle, you must pay attention to your habits. How many hours per night are you completely rested? When you are lucky enough to fall asleep naturally and wake up without a clock after a quiet week, how much time do you spend in Morpheus' arms? Write it down! It will make it easier for you.
Need help improving your sleep routine and paying off your sleep debt? Feel free to read our article on 10 tips for better sleep hygiene!