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How to free yourself from sleep debt

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 30, 2024 5:00 am

Prioritizing sleep and developing good sleep hygiene helps prevent sleep debt. Another form of collateral damage from the holiday-heavy last quarter of the year is sleep debt. All the socializing, the hosting, and the traveling shave a few hours from our usual seven to eight hours of sleep. 

We incur a sleep deficit or sleep debt when we sleep less than seven hours. We may snatch a nap whenever our schedule allows, but we do not recover fast enough.

Sleep is the way our bodies rest, recover, and rebuild. Having enough sleep is an essential component of good health. When we sleep well, we are more energetic and alert. Our memory and immune systems also work better. 

Keep power naps to a maximum of 20 minutes. A quick shut-eye midday can help you recover from sleep deprivation

Many people, especially the youth, do not get enough sleep. Sleep debt also adds up. Even if you lose only 30 minutes every day, that still equals three hours and a half for a week. 

A person’s state of sleep deprivation may not be immediately obvious because the body can adapt to chronic sleep debt. That’s the reason why some people think they can live on a few hours of sleep. The body adjusts but it doesn’t mean it is not hurting from being deprived of quality recovery time. 

It takes up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep. It may take up to nine days to cancel that one hour of sleep debt. Prioritizing sleep and developing good sleep hygiene help prevent sleep debt.

Intention is the key to lifestyle change. Prioritize a minimum of seven hours of sleep a day to avoid the accumulation of sleep debt. While it is true that the amount of sleep each person needs can vary, research studies agree that most adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. 

People are creatures of habit. Commit yourself to a nightly routine and a set schedule for sleeping. If you wish to wake up at 6 a.m. then you should aim to sleep by 10 or 11 p.m. 

Make sure to do your bedtime rituals 30 minutes to one hour before then. Dim the lights, and stay away from your gadgets. Set the alarm to sleep and the alarm to wake up at the same time every day. Even on weekends. A consistent schedule will help in resetting your circadian rhythm. At least in the first month of trying to improve your sleep pattern, it may be good to maintain a sleep diary. 

We need at least seven hours of quality rest to renew and recharge.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, investigate the possible triggers. Too much caffeine (that’s not just from coffee), too much alcohol, or too much sugar? Maybe you need to get some sunlight and exercise during the day. 

Is your bedroom primed for a good sleep? Is your bed comfortable? Do you love your pillows? Does your comforter bring you comfort? Is the room temperature not too warm or not too cold? Are there noises or bright lights preventing you from getting a good sleep? 

Know yourself, because what works for one may not work for others. Some people can not sleep without a lamp on or those who need ambient music to fall into a good slumber. 

When you are sleep-deprived, take 10- to 20-minute naps during the day. This short break can do wonders for your brain. While many think they can offset the lack of sleep on weekdays by sleeping longer on weekends, one study, in particular, concluded that this practice does not reverse the metabolic dysregulation and the possible weight gain that chronic sleep loss could cause. 

Research further said that it takes up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep. It may take up to nine days to cancel that one hour of sleep debt. Full recovery means bringing the body back to the baseline. 

Prioritizing sleep and developing good sleep hygiene help prevent sleep debt. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, establishing a nightly routine, evaluating daytime habits, and creating a conducive sleep environment are important steps in improving sleep quality and quantity. 

In unavoidable circumstances where sleep is lost, taking short naps or sleeping in on weekends may offer temporary relief, but it can take several days or even a week to fully recover from sleep debt. 

It’s essential to be consistent with sleep schedules, track sleep habits, gradually increase sleep duration, and seek medical advice if experiencing persistent sleep issues. 

By implementing these strategies, individuals can work towards eliminating sleep debt and achieving better sleep habits.