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Sleep Debt: Getting Enough Rest

On a scientific level, patterns of sleep are surprisingly complicated. At the same time, the most practical sleep advice is actually quite simple: most adults should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep …

On a scientific level, patterns of sleep are surprisingly complicated. At the same time, the most practical sleep advice is actually quite simple: most adults should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, as failing to get adequate sleep can lead to serious health consequences.

Here at PMR, we understand that life often gets in the way of developing a stable sleep pattern. But it doesn’t have to be that way—in fact, by making small adjustments, we can make significant improvements to our overall health and wellness.

What Is a Sleep Debt?

Though there’s some debate about exactly how it functions, most experts seem to agree that “sleep debt” exists in some form or another. The concept is almost self-explanatory: when we miss out on sleep, our sleep debt grows, and we can only eliminate that debt by catching up on sleep in the near future.

That being said, the ratio isn’t necessarily exact. For example, if you miss out on two hours of sleep every day for a week, you might not need a full 14 hours of extra sleep to return to baseline levels. Still, as a general rule, the more you forego sleep now, the more catching up you’ll have to do later. 

Why Should I Care?

You already know that missing out on sleep can lead to daytime drowsiness, fatigue, poor concentration, and reduced productivity. But sleep debt doesn’t just cause you to nod off at your desk—it can also lead to serious health problems over time. Chronic sleep problems can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, impaired memory, and other conditions.

In fact, in a study conducted at the University of Chicago, students regularly deprived of sleep exhibited higher blood pressure, higher cortisol levels (a stress hormone), and even produced fewer antibodies. Perhaps even more importantly, their health problems seemed to go away once they had made up the missed sleep. 

What Can I Do About It?

For adults with busy schedules, getting enough sleep can be a serious challenge, but it’s worth the effort. At PMR, we consider sleep to be a crucial component of a holistic, healthy lifestyle. With that in mind, here are a few tips for eliminating sleep debt:

  • Practice healthy sleep habits. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol—especially near your bedtime—and don’t use electronic screens just before sleeping. Regular exercise helps, too.
  • You can make up some sleep over the weekend, but your best bet is to avoid getting into sleep debt in the first place. Even going to bed just a little bit earlier each night can help get you closer to that critical seven to nine hours.
  • If your sleep debt has built up over a long time, you may need a vacation. At the very least, give yourself a few days to sleep without an alarm, allowing your body to naturally make up the debt.

To learn more about sleep and its relationship to overall health, contact us at PMR today!

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