Sleep deprivation: Is sleep debt ok?
The amount of sleep that a person requires in order to be fully rested changes depending on any number of factors from age to occupation. When it comes to figuring out what amount of sleep is right for you, it can be hard to know what to believe. Then again, if you’re only able to sleep for 7 hours a night due to work, family or other commitments, but it still doesn’t feel like enough, is a little sleep debt ok?
What are your sleeping habits?
Before anything, if you’re asking yourself if sleep debt is ok, it might be a good idea to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to avoid sleep deprivation. Ask yourself the following question:
Are you an early bird or more of a night owl?
Whichever you are, your body needs a certain amount of sleep in order to function properly. The question isn’t how long you are sleeping, but how much sleep do you need.
The Sleep Health Foundation1 has recommended that sleep is wholly dependent on your age bracket. For the most part, adults need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep without relying on naps to catch them up. You might think that you can catch up on your missed sleep on the weekends with no adverse effects, but the fact is that losing even 30 minutes of sleep during the weekdays can lead to problems in the long term.
What are the consequences of sleep debt?
When you don’t get adequate sleep, you accumulate what is known as ‘sleep debt’2. There’s a reason that sleep is so important to your body; it’s the time where your body is repairing itself. By depriving yourself of sleep, you’re not allowing your body the ability to repair itself and maintain your immune system.
Sleep deprivation symptoms vary from yawning constantly to poor concentration3. Day-to-day consequences of sleep deprivation include not being alert when driving or making mistakes at work. Prolonged sleep deprivation can create long-term health problems3. Combatting the issue and maintaining a healthy sleep cycle will help you both today and tomorrow.
With all the distractions readily available to you (phones and laptops for example), it’s easy to miss out on the sleep you need. Mobile phones often follow us into bedroom, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of answering that work e-mail, shopping online or seeing what’s happening on our social networks. When it comes to sleep though, darkness matters.
Tips to help you fall asleep
If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep, try the following tips:
Practise yoga: There are no scientific studies showing that yoga can help you to get more or better sleep. However, there is lots of evidence to suggest that yoga is great for improving and maintaining physical and emotional health, both of which help to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Exercise has been known to aid sleep, with recommendations stating that at least 30 minutes daily exercise can make a difference4.
Get out of bed. Many people can’t sleep because they hop into bed without winding down. They lie there with an active mind, struggling to switch it off. If you ever get into bed and fail to fall asleep within 30 or 40 minutes, get out of bed, do something to unwind and get back into bed when you’re feeling more tired. Just make sure that what you do is neither too stimulating, like working, and doesn’t involves bright lights. It may even be a good idea to try a herbal tea or warm milk - both of which are drinks that help you to sleep.
Take a hot bath. Hot baths have been demonstrated to significantly increase5 sleepiness. The reason is believed to be related to their effect on body temperature. Your body temperature naturally drops at night. Your brain triggers the drop as it prepares your body to sleep. If you take a hot bath before bedtime, it will raise your body temperature a little, and the steeper drop in temperature that you experience at bedtime will help you to feel sleepier and more relaxed. Hot showers also work, but are less effective.
Try progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves systematically tensing and then relaxing all of the muscle groups in your body. The exercise promotes overall relaxation and has proved effective in the management of tension headaches, insomnia, chronic pain and other health conditions.
When your sleep isn’t coming to you naturally and you’ve tried each and every tip available online, it might be an idea to try something new. Speaking to your doctor can be the first step to getting better sleep. Download our eBook “The ultimate guide to understanding your sleep issues” for help navigating the conversations you need to have with your partner and doctor.
- Sleep Needs Across the Lifespan. Sleep Health Foundation. http://sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Sleep%20Needs%20Across%20Lifespan.pdf
- Myths and Facts about Sleep. National Sleep Founation. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep
- Sleep deprivation. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-deprivation
- Walking for good health. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/walking-for-good-health
- Night-time sleep EEG changes following body heating in a warm bath. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2578367