In spite of everyone’s best intentioned efforts to make sleep health a priority, the situation may arise when you ask yourself: can you catch up on lost sleep?
The most basic answer is yes, you can. But like most things, the most useful answer is more involved than that. Ultimately, sleep has a significant impact on wellness and long-term personal health. Just like exercise, getting enough sleep has the most positive impact when you commit to doing so consistently.
If you skip a day at the gym, you may be able to put in a little extra the following day (or even the same amount, if you get back on track) and not be too disrupted. This is similar to the idea of catching up on sleep. If you have a late night and are able to only sleep five hours, tacking on a couple more hours the next night should have you feeling rejuvenated.
However, as soon as you cut into your sleep hours, you begin to accrue sleep debt. Like any kind of debt, sleep debt can have very negative effects if it gets out of hand.
What Is Sleep Debt?
Sleep debt refers to any time that is taken away from a person’s recommended amount of sleep time. In general, that number is around seven to eight hours of sleep per night for adults.
Just like financial debt, sleep debt refers to a build-up of sleep loss that is not made up or that keeps growing. While making up a couple of hours of lost sleep on a weekend may not have much of an effect, people run into problems when they continuously disrupt their sleep patterns to borrow time for other things.
Health concerns arise when people develop a chronic tendency of unhealthy sleep patterns. Over time, a consistent lack of sleep can negatively affect brain function, reduce immune function, and increase the risk of incurring health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Preventing and Recovering From Sleep Debt
As with other healthy habits, there are things you can do to help you succeed in following healthy sleeping habits and avoiding sleep debt. Inevitably, you may find that you don’t get enough sleep on a given night. These practices will help you to create a foundation so that when that does occur, you will have the tools in place to help you get back on track.
Create an Ideal Bedroom Environment
Imagine trying to do 30 minutes of treadmill exercise in an extremely small, unventilated room with an old treadmill from the 1990s. Just the thought of it is awful. The environment you sleep in and what you sleep on are a crucial part of achieving restful, consistent sleep.
The most important part of creating an ideal bedroom environment is your sleep “treadmill” — the mattress. The right mattress can alleviate back pain and ensure a comfortable, restful sleep. If you’re a side sleeper, then you won’t want the same mattress as a back sleeper. Finding a mattress that is the right fit for you is a huge step in creating lasting healthy sleep patterns.
Similarly, bedding and pillows contribute to your comfort and a positive sleep experience. The shape, fill, and size of the pillows you use are very particular to an individual, so it is important that you follow the proper guidance to find the best option.
Develop a Pre-Bed Routine
Oftentimes, sleep debt develops from the inability to fall asleep at night. There are many reasons why you can’t sleep at night, and most of those can be avoided by developing a pre-bed routine.
In the morning, people don’t just hop out of bed and go directly out the door to work. We have a morning routine that gets us ready for the day. So too should you have a pre-bed routine that signals to your body that it’s time to rest.
Follow some good sleep hygiene tips to avoid behaviors that tend to keep people up later and to incorporate positive behaviors that lead to a healthy night’s rest.
Be Cognisant of Your Sleep
If you’re not cognisant of your sleep patterns, then how can you know when you’re falling into a pattern of sleep debt? It is key to be aware of your sleep tendencies for this and other reasons.
Luckily, technology has made keeping tabs on our sleep easier than ever with incredible sleep tracking apps. Using a sleep tracking app or device is an easy way to see how many hours of sleep you’re getting each night and gauging the quality of your sleep.
Paying more attention to your sleep may also give you better insight into whether or not there is something else affecting your sleep, like a health condition or sleep disorder. If you identify some consistent patterns, you may be able to work with a doctor to find a lasting solution.
Invest In Sleep Health
While it’s tempting to catch up on sleep by napping, sleep debt is something that you should avoid at all costs. Once you invest in healthy sleep habits, you’ll notice a huge difference in mood, energy levels, brain function, and more. When it comes to your health as you get older, you’ll thank yourself in the long run for getting a good night’s sleep.