Tag Archives: sleep debt

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 2C. Relaxation & Sleep — How much is enough?

jordan-whitt-EerxztHCjM8-unsplashToday’s notes are about sleep.

Everyone needs it. Your brain is very active during sleep & it helps process all the events of the day, create memories and it performs repair, healing, maintenance and building functions during sleep.   Without adequate sleep, our body & mind suffers. We make mistakes not only in our awake activities, but our body cannot repair, heal or perform maintenance or building functions as well and may also make mistakes. With chronic sleep deprivation, our body and mind starts to wear down from the daily stresses and we may develop mental & physical health problems including weight gain, chronic diseases, illnesses, depression, anxiety, fatigue,  etc.

At different times in our life and depending on different circumstances, our  needs for sleep will change. During times of intense brain growth and development, we need more sleep (think babies, toddlers, children & adolescents). When we are sick or have chronic diseases, we may benefit from more sleep as we need more time to repair, heal and maintain. When we travel across time zones or have shift work, we may need more sleep because we often develop a sleep debt (I will talk about shortly). We may need more sleep in the colder, darker months than in the warmer, lighter months.

The average adult needs 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal function. [**NOTE: If you are fit, you may be able to get away with less sleep as your sleep is more efficient.] Each sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes and is divided into deep sleep stages and then REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage.

Note that sleep is different throughout the night. In the earlier cycles of sleep, more of the 90 minute cycle is spent in deeper sleep stages which are restorative. Later sleep cycles have more of the 90 minutes spent in REM sleep, when you are dreaming. If you have missed sleep, your body naturally will try to make up the sleep stages it is missing, but it throws off your sleep balance and takes time to get back into your natural sleep/awake rhythm.

Overall, you want to maintain a regular sleep routine as much as possible. Remember how important your sleep time is & plan AROUND it as much as possible. Your mind and body will be in a better state if you get enough sleep because it will be able to do all the repairing, healing, maintaining and building functions it needs to to function at its best. Bottom line, you will feel much better and have fewer health issues if you allow yourself enough sleep.

So, prioritize sleep and make sure you get enough. How can  you get enough? First, assess your sleep:

1. Add up 5 days’ worth of sleep hours. (I get the number of hours of sleep from my smartphone app). If it is 37.5 – 45 hours, you are fine. If you have LESS THAN 37.5 hours total over 5 days, you have not given yourself enough sleep time.

2. You can also figure out the average number of hours of sleep over 5 days.  It should be at least 7.5 hours daily on average. (I add up the number of hours over 5 days & divide by 5. That’s my average number of hours of sleep each night.) The average is nice to know so that you can see how much more time you have to add each night in the future (after you have made up your sleep debt).

3.  If your your total sleep time is less than 37.5 hours OR your average number of hours sleeping each night is less than 7.5 hours, you have a sleep debt you need to make up. 

Good news: If you have a sleep debt ( you are sleep deprived),  you CAN make it up over several subsequent nights.  

Here is how you can make up your sleep debt:

1. Figure out how many hours you need to make up & make them up over the next several days. For example: Total sleep was 32.5 hours. You are short 5 hours. You will have to make it up over the next several days (not all at once!). You may have a couple of weekend days when you can sleep in a little longer or you may want to go to bed earlier.

Note, that in the example of total sleep = 32.5 hours (there is a sleep debt of 5 hours total), also means on average, 6.5 hours of sleep per night. You would want to plan to make up the 5 hours over the next several days, such as sleeping 8.5 hours each night for 5 nights. But also note that in the future, you will need to find a way to add 1 hour of sleep per night to stay out of the sleep debt. Adequate sleep is important so that you don’t burn out your mind or body and you can maintain optimal functioning.

2. If your sleep debt is more than 9 hours, you may need to allow extra make up sleep to catch up, maybe 10 or 11 hours of make up sleep over the next week to make up a 9 hour sleep debt. So don’t let the sleep debt build up! It pays to pay off the sleep debt earlier, before it adds up to too many required make up hours where it becomes harder to catch up!

3. If you have insomnia or cannot sleep, that’s ok. You will still benefit if you allow yourself to lay quietly for the time you have planned. Whether you fall asleep or not is not as important as turning yourself off to the outside world for a period of time. You can still allow yourself much of the restorative functions of sleep by closing your eyes and meditating or relaxing so that you do not have to respond to anything. Laying quietly or with some soothing sounds will allow your body some time to perform some of the maintenance and repair functions that might have been skipped due to lost sleep hours.  With regular routine rest times, over time, your natural sleep/awake cycles will coordinate with your timing needs and allow you to sleep as your body and mind needs.

Sleep is important. It’s the time your body takes care of you and gets rejuvenated, healed, repaired, tuned up and restored. Protect your sleep time and work to respect your needs for sleep. Prioritize it. Take care of your body and mind & they will take care of you! Humans were designed to be healthy!

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

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