Three Simple Ways To Eliminate Your Sleep Debt And Avoid Chronic Sleep Deprivation
These days, a lot of people think nothing about going to bed in the wee hours of the morning and then waking up only a few short hours later. For some people, turning in late at night is a necessity. They have to work nights or long hours, or they have important tasks that they can only do at night. For others, going to sleep in the pre-dawn hours is a lifestyle choice brought on by frequent partying, playing videogames, late-night Internet surfing, or watching late-night TV.
Unfortunately, this habit of chronic sleep deprivation causes us to acquire sleep debt. Sleep debt is simply the difference between the amount of sleep your body requires and the amount of sleep it actually gets.
Just like any debt, sleep debt can accumulate and lead to some serious health issues. Short-term sleep debt can lead to irritability, lack of focus, blurry vision, and headaches. Long-term sleep debt, on the other hand, weakens your immune system as well as increases your vulnerability to diseases like diabetes, heart problems, and depression.
If you’re in the habit of not getting enough sleep, you can still pay off your sleep debt and avoid the health risk it entails. Paying off your sleep debt, however, involves more than just catching up on sleep on weekends. It is a matter of developing proper sleeping habits, improving the quality of your sleep, and going on sleep vacations when needed.
Develop Proper Sleeping Habits
Developing proper sleeping habits is the first and the fundamental step to paying off your sleep debt. If you don’t cultivate these sleeping habits, you won’t be able to get rid of your sleep debt at all. Instead, your sleep debt will get bigger and bigger. It’s just like how it is with credit card debt – you need to stop using your credit card to dig yourself out of debt. Otherwise, your credit card debt will just grow beyond your control. With sleep debt, you need to do away with your bad sleep habits to reap the full benefits of sleep and avoid the negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation.
How do you develop proper sleeping habits? The simplest way to do it is to set your bedtime to eight hours before you’re supposed to wake up the next morning and stick to that bedtime every single night. Of course, you’ll have to do a bit of tweaking here depending on your own needs. Your body may require only seven hours of sleep. Or it may need ten hours.
So at first, set your bedtime to eight hours before the time you’re supposed to get out of bed. If you feel groggy upon waking up, sleep earlier so you can sleep longer. If you wake up before your alarm clock rings, then you can sleep a bit later. Once you’ve got your sleeping hours figured out, try to sleep at the same time every night to get your body clock in rhythm. In this way, you won’t need an alarm clock anymore.
Certainly there will be times when you’ll have to miss out on sleep. Perhaps you have an exam you need to cram for in school. Perhaps you have a project at work that requires you to put in long hours at the office. Perhaps you have a baby at home whose crying keeps you awake at night. On those days that you know you’d miss some sleep, try to make up for it with afternoon naps or sleeping in on weekends.
Improving The Quality Of Your Sleep
The number of hours you sleep at night is not the only factor that matters in eliminating your sleep debt. You also need to improve the quality of your sleep. You many enjoy ten hours of sleep at night, but if that sleep is poor and shallow, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning. You won’t reap the benefits of good sleep as well.
Sleep researchers have discovered that there are different phases of sleep. Deep sleep is the phase when the body repairs and rejuvenates itself. When you experience uninterrupted deep sleep at night, you are guaranteed to feel like new when you wake up the following morning.
To ensure uninterrupted deep sleep when you go to bed, the first thing you need to do is to control your sleep environment. This means making your bedroom as conducive to sleep as you possibly can. You can achieve this in many ways, such as:
- Dressing your bedroom windows with thick curtains to prevent sunshine and outside noise from interrupting your sleep.
- Removing electronic devices such as your TV, stereo, DVD player, and computer from your bedroom. These devices stimulate your brain instead of lulling it, thus preventing you from falling asleep.
- Turning your cellphone off before you go to bed so you won’t be woken up by late-night calls. You can put the ringer on silent mode if your cellphone also doubles as an alarm clock.
- Installing dimmers in your bedroom. Bright light prevents your body from falling into deep sleep. If you’re not used to sleeping in total darkness, at least make sure the lights in your bedroom are dim.
Relaxing your body before bedtime also increases your likelihood of experiencing deep sleep. So, try to develop a ritual for winding down before going to bed. You can, for example, take a warm bath, listen to soft music, meditate, or have sex before bedtime. Additionally, avoid activities that can stimulate your mind at night. These activities include drinking coffee, working out, and arguing.
Go On A Sleep Vacation
Sometimes, it’s just difficult to get the sleep you need at night. This especially applies when you’re in a stressful work environment or if you really can’t give up the lifestyle that keeps you awake until the wee hours of the morning. In this case, you can pay off your sleep debt by going on a sleep vacation.
When you go on a sleep vacation, it means you taking a break from your busy schedule to spend two weeks every six months doing nothing but catching up on sleep. During those two weeks, you sleep when you’re tired and wake up when your body is truly awake. A sleep vacation is nothing like developing proper sleeping habits, but it’s still a good alternative if you really can’t get eight to ten hours of shuteye at night consistently.
You don’t have to leave home just to go on a sleep vacation, although it would be great if you could get away for those two weeks. All you have to do is to sleep when you want to sleep and wake up when you feel like waking up. Take the time to relax, and get your mind off the things that stress you out, such as work or school. After those two weeks are up, you’ll feel truly refreshed and ready to resume the challenges of your life.
Sleep is something a lot of people sacrifice these days because of school, work, or lifestyle. Unfortunately, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to sleep debt, and sleep debt can result in serious health problems in the long run. By developing proper sleeping habits, finding ways to improve the quality of your sleep, and going on regular sleep vacations, you can easily pay off your sleep debt and keep your body healthy.