We know accruing too much debt when it comes to money can be a dangerous and unhealthy thing, but we tend to ignore the debt we incur when it comes to our sleep. In fact, the two are directly related, we spend the bulk of our time worrying about money and work and bills and sacrifice our sleep in order to manage them. This sacrifice can lead to an array of significant health concerns.
Sleep Debt Can Lead To Serious Health Conditions
For optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep daily, but we continually fall short of this each and every night. Each hour of lost sleep goes into the debt column, and like money, sooner or later we have to pay it back. If we don’t we end up losing our house, or in this case our health and happiness. As the sleep debt mounts, the health consequences increase, putting us at growing risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss.
University of Chicago researchers followed a group of student volunteers who slept only four hours nightly for six consecutive days. The volunteers developed higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and they produced only half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine. The sleep-deprived students also showed signs of insulin resistance — a condition that is the precursor of type 2 diabetes and metabolic slowdown.
Our Sleep Debt Can Grow and Grow
Sleep Debt tends to accumulate and about two weeks of less than 6 hours of sleep a night reduces alertness and performance to a level equivalent to a full 24 hours of sleep deprivation. We can see so easily that only one less hour of sleep a night can have a significant impact on us the following day, it affects everything from our mood, energy and stress, to reduced alertness, poor concentration, reduced attention span, memory lapses, impaired reaction time and this is only from one missed night of quality sleep. The longer we let this grow and grow the more and more we become prone to more serious conditions like obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.
How Do We Repay Our Debt?
Firstly we need to embrace the attitude that sleep is not a luxury but a necessity, as adequate sleep is just as important for our health as diet and exercise. If you missed 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, adding three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week will help ease the burden and manage short-term sleep debt. In order to manage our long-term debt holidays can be critical. We need to ensure that these holidays aren’t too hectic as this will just add to our already growing debt. Turn off the alarm clocks and just sleep until you wake up – this is important to restore our natural settings. To ensure we never fall into a debt crisis, we need to maintain a regular sleep pattern and schedule every single night, this means getting to bed and waking up at a consistent and healthy time.