Sleep is a very important part of our lives. While we sleep, our brain catalogs information that we picked up during the day and heals our body. That being said, the fast-paced world we live in today is unforgiving in its ability to deprive us of sleep. Hence, we are now facing the rising problem of sleep debt where many of us who are sleep deprived during the week often try to make up for it on weekends or their free time. Unfortunately, this creates a wide-ranging and significant impact on our health.
The fact is, we all love to sleep as much as we love to eat. When you sleep, your brain goes through several stages where it reorganises the information you picked up during the day and enables the body to heal overnight. This process is important and takes awhile to complete. But today’s modern and hasty world is causing many of us to lose our sleep and become sleep deprived. Be it work or social obligations, there is just so much to do and so little time on our hands.
This has led a situation where many of us who experience sleep deprivation during the week, try to catch up during the weekends or our free time. But catching up on a missed night of sleep isn’t quite the same as getting the sleep you needed in the first place. When you try to catch up, it takes extra time for your body to recover. According to a study from the National Institute of Mental Health in Japan, it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep. According to the Science Translational Medicine journal, studies have shown that this can lead to both short and long-term damaging cumulative effects that create a wide-ranging and significant impact on our health.
"Sleep deprivation is the most common brain impairment."
William C. Dement, American sleep researcher
What causes sleep debt?
The most common cause of sleep debt is intentional sleep deprivation due to social or work commitments. This can be in the form of irregular shift work, family obligations or demanding jobs. However, medical problems such as depression, obstructive sleep apnea, hormone imbalances, and other chronic illnesses that lead to sleep deprivation, can also contribute to sleep debt. While the immediate remedy for sleep deprivation is to get adequate rest on the day itself, many people assume that they can ‘pay back’ their sleep.
What are the symptoms?
Because sleep debt is directly caused by sleep deprivation, the symptoms of someone suffering sleep debt can include yawning, moodiness, fatigue, irritability, difficulty in learning new concepts, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation and reduced sex drive. Less sleep also makes us less social creatures. A study at the Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science found that the part of the brain which encourages social interaction, was shut down completely in sleep deprived individuals. These sleep-deprived people also felt unhappy and more negative about life, while being more susceptible to feelings of stress and anxiety.
"Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more."
Robert A. Heinlein, Author
What does it do to your body?
Because of the believe in the myth that you can 'save up' for sleep during the weekends, many are suffering from irregular sleep patterns that can affect a person’s body weight, affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone in men. Prolonged sleep deprivation can negatively affect a range of systems in the body and weaken the immune system leaving us vulnerable to an increased risk of respiratory diseases. Even short-term sleep deprivation can have significant health effects. According to the World Health Organisation, just one week of reduced sleep can alter a person’s blood sugar levels enough to show signs of pre-diabetes, increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance. It also causes imbalances in hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin in the body, causing a person to crave foods high in carbohydrates.
What’s the solution?
There are several ways to properly address this problem, but the best solution is to commit to a regular sleep pattern. The Sleep Foundation recommends about 10 to 11 hours a night for kids, 8.5 to 9.25 for teens and seven to nine for adults. Proper planning is crucial – so if you have any activities planned in the evening that might delay you from sleeping – reschedule it!
If you’re finding it difficult to sleep, try creating a sleep sanctuary and reserve it for intimate restful activities like sleeping, reading and meditation (that means no TV, laptops or Netflix. Avoid caffeine after noon and go light on alcohol. Exercising helps as well and you can snack on some food and drinks that promote sleep. Of course, if these steps don’t help, or if you experience other sleep issues like narcolepsy or sleep paralysis, make sure you go talk to a doctor.
"Sleep is the best meditation."
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