Why You’ll Never Catch Up on Sleep Debt

More than a third of American adults aren’t clocking enough shut-eye on a regular basis—so much so that insufficient sleep has become a public health problem, according to the CDC. If you’re suffering from sleep debt, all is not lost; read on for tips to help you feel better each day.

Lack of sleep increases the risk of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, and it impacts worker productivity. When we’re not getting enough sleep, it’s easy to think a nap or earlier bedtime the next day may help. The truth is, those much-needed sleep hours aren’t recouped. But, no point dwelling on the past.

Understanding Sleep-and-Wake Cycles

Over the course of 24 hours, circadian rhythms keep us awake during the day and put us to sleep at night. When circadian rhythms are out of sync, according to Non-24, a health care resource for people who suffer from circadian rhythm disorders, it can be difficult to fall asleep at night, which leads to an urge to nap throughout the day. According to Pete Bils, the vice president of sleep science and research at Sleep Number, “Our bodies are designed to balance 16 hours of wakefulness with 8 hours of sleep. The pressure to sleep builds all day, though it isn’t linear, so you don’t feel more tired each successive second of the day.”1

Disruptions in the sleep cycle impact both circadian rhythms and hormones, which in turn can cause fatigue during the day and wakefulness late into the night. One-third of the U.S. population sleeps poorly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has linked lack of sleep to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and medical and other occupational errors. The further people get into sleep debt, the more out of balance the sleep cycle can become.

Reducing Sleep Debt

Since it’s not possible to restore the sleep time lost during a 24-hour cycle, the only truly effective remedy is resetting the sleep-and-wake cycle the following day, and the days after that. Taking steps to stay out of sleep debt mean modifying your sleep schedule. It’s also important to be consistent with a sleep routine and get the recommended 7 to 8 hours per night in a 24-hour period.

How does that happen? Choose a specific time to consistently sleep and wake throughout the week. Make sure the sleep environment is conducive to sleep. Good sleep hygiene helps restore the sleep-and-wake cycle so the circadian rhythms are back in sync—and mitigates the effects of sleep debt.

Found this interesting? Check out these ways to hack your circadian rhythm: https://blog.sleepnumber.com/2016/04/18/sleep-geek-petes-circadian-rhythm-hacks/

1“Quality Sleep: The Center of a Healthy Life.” Pete Bils, Vice President, Sleep Science and Research at Sleep Number.