Make Sure to Get Enough Sleep

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With such busy lives, we often cut back on sleep to fit more activities into our schedules. This dangerous accumulation of sleep debt can catch up with us quickly and affect every aspect of our lives. Lack of adequate sleep on a regular basis can cause a range of concerns from an inability to concentrate to more serious issues, like compromised driving safety and illness.

However, you can—and must—pay back your sleep dept. Find out how.

Sleep Deprivation and Its Consequences

Who hasn't wished for a twenty-fifth (or twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh) hour of every day? In our frantic, every-minute-counts society, many people are cutting back on sleep to get done all that they feel they need to. Most adults require between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Still, surveys show that the typical American reports getting less than 7.1 hours of shut-eye a night.

As days pass, sleep dept accumulates. It gradually builds up over time, so stealthily that you may not even realize you are sleep deprived. Fatigue is the most obvious symptom; however, there are other symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as irritability, anxiety, and concentration and learning difficulties that may not be so apparent.

Individuals may become so used to experiencing these symptoms that they think of them as normal. Chronic sleep loss can also lead to frequent infections, appetite changes and blurred vision (amongst other concerns). These issues can cause more serious health problems and negatively impact your well-being and quality of life.

Repaying Your Sleep Debt

Repaying your sleep dept will take more than one long snooze. For short-term debt (if you missed 12 hours of sleep in a week), you should add three to four additional hours of sleep on the weekend. During the following week, sleep an extra hour or two per night until you have fully repaid the debt.

To repay long-term loss of sleep, you should find a period of a few days—say, while on vacation—in which you can sleep until you awake naturally. Let your body clock wake you; do not use an alarm clock. This will also allow you to gauge how much sleep you really need (not what you think you can get by on).

Of course, it's important to note that cheating yourself of sleep with plans to pay it back on a regular basis is not a healthy strategy. Once you have paid back one sleep debt, try to avoid accumulating more by looking at your irregular sleep patterns and changing them.

Getting the number of hours you personally need each and every night requires you to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Hours of regular sleep will reset and stabilize your internal clock, eliminating the need for an alarm clock and making you more alert when you wake. You will be more attentive during the day if you adhere to a schedule than if you sleep the same total number of hours at varying hours.

Making the Time to Get the Sleep You Need

According to Dr. James B. Maas and Rebecca S. Robbins, authors of Sleep for Success, "The secret is twofold: valuing sleep and managing your time."

Here is how to get started:

  • Track how you spend your time, hour by hour, on a typical day. Then, decide how you should be spending it. For each of your set goals and activities, block out periods of time and detail the specific things you need to do to achieve those goals and perform those activities.
  • Block out time when absolutely nothing is scheduled. This way, when other things take more time than you've allotted, you have time to handle the unexpected.
  • If all of your tasks do not fit into your schedule, which factors in a firm bedtime, ask yourself the following questions: Is everything on the schedule necessary? Have I taken on too much? Can I outsource some tasks, do some in an abbreviated way, or delegate to others? If you still do not have time to do everything, you may need to lighten your workload.

Even after scheduling your time, you may still think there's not enough to achieve regular sleep. The truth is, with regular and adequate sleep, you will be better equipped to manage your time and handle even more tasks. And, you will be more awake and alert as you perform them.

Written by: Stephanie Torreno

Sources: The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Available at: www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Repaying-your-sleep-debt.shtml. Accessed: June 1, 2011.

Maas, James B., Robbins, Rebecca S., and Dement, William C. Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are too Tired to Ask. Author Solutions, 2010.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 16 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 03 Mar 2015