You hit snooze on the alarm for the fifth time this morning. As you drag your tired body out of bed, you count the hours of sleep you've missed out on this week due to late work nights, social engagements or too much TV. As you head for the shower you think to yourself, “I'll catch up on sleep this weekend.” You're paying interest on your sleep debt.
You know you need to sleep yet you keep missing out on getting enough. You're not alone. Sleep problems are so commonplace that most of us don't even consider it a problem anymore. There's always energy drinks and coffee to get you through the day and wine or sleep aids to get you through the night.
Sound familiar? What you may not know is that skimping on sleep can bring about some undesirable consequences such as a rotten mood, brain fog on the more noticeable end and weight gain, lowered immune function, premature aging at the less obvious end. And in extreme cases, consistent sleep debt can inadvertently lead to early death.
Dying of drowsiness
While dying from lack of sleep is something we might complain about on Monday morning, it's not a joking matter. When you sleep, your body does the critical work of restoration. During the hours of sleep, your muscles are repairing from muscle break down brought on by exertion and exercise. Your immune system is dependent on getting enough sleep.
Sleep helps your hormones stay balanced, including the production of human growth hormones. Cortisol and thyroid hormone production depend on adequate sleep as well as the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin (those have to do with appetite and hunger) all which can cause weight gain or the inability to lose weight.
Pros and Cons of Napping
Taking a nap can benefit you when you have missed out on sleep or when you are feeling drowsy if you do it right. In fact, some research shows that a nap can improve reaction time, logical reasoning, symbol recognition, and mood. All which are important if you are a student cramming for an exam!
However, it's best not to depend on naps to fulfill a sleep deficit. Frequent weekend naps can interfere with the circadian rhythm and cause regular sleep to be disrupted.
Nap timing appears to be somewhat important when it comes to reaping those benefits. Naps taken earlier in the day yield more robust and longer lasting benefits than those later in the afternoon. Also, taking a nap before you miss out on sleep appears to be more effective than napping after you skip your shut-eye. (source)
Too much sleep during the day can disrupt nighttime sleep, sometimes causing an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Research indicates that sporadic sleeping and too much napping can lead to elevated C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, although the correlation is inconsistent it is worth noting. (source)
For the most benefit, keep naps short, around half an hour if you are looking to promote wakefulness and enhance performance and learning ability. Longer naps can often lead to waking groggily and in a funk. The habit of taking regular long naps may also be associated with increased morbidity among the elderly! (source)
Paying off your sleep debt
Remember, if you are consistently missing out on 1-2 hours of sleep per night, by the weekend you could have a sleep debt of 5-10 hours! That is a lot more than you can pay back in a weekend of sleeping in and taking naps. Besides, sleeping too much over the weekend can actually backfire, making it harder to get good sleep during the week.
Are you operating in the red? Do you have sleep debt? In the end, the best way to “catch up on sleep” is to just get back on track with a regular sleep schedule of 7-9 hours per night. Consistently going to bed and waking at the same time each day as a habit is the only way to catch up on sleep effectively.
If you want to grow old healthy, happy, and looking your best, it is imperative to get adequate sleep. For superior health, make sleep hygiene a priority, it's the easiest thing you can do to contribute to your well-being.
Sleep is a hot topic here and you'll find plenty of sleep hygiene tips that will help you sleep better as well as recommendations for the right pillow for your sleep position and how to buy a mattress you'll love online.