Sleep is incredibly important for our health and aids in our brain function by repairing and regenerating, detoxifying and assisting with crucial memory building and consolidation. As adults, we need an average of 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted slumber, however most Americans average 6.5 hours and many only get 5 hours a night.
Unfortunately, most Americans are sleep deprived and average 6-7 hours of sleep a night leading to at least an hour of debt each day. Sleep Debt is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep during the week. It is the difference between how much sleep you are actually getting and how much you should get.
Short-term sleep deprivation leads to a host of negative effects: a foggy brain with poor memory, decreased creativity, poor judgment, impaired vision and driving, and increased impulsiveness just to name a few.
Long-term effects are even more significant and have been linked with depression, obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. Long term sleep deprivation also increases the body’s overall stress and decreases the ability of the immune system to function properly, making one at higher risk for disease.
There is a well-documented relationship between sleep deprivation and weight gain. People who sleep less than 5 hours a night have an estimated 50% chance of being obese. Researchers believe this is related to a disruption in the balance of key hormones that control appetite, including ghrelin which is a hormone that stimulates appetite, fat production, and body growth. In addition to being hungry when sleep deprived, the stress hormone cortisol spikes making us crave high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods.
Sleep debt can be restored. It is generally best to add back an hour or more to your nightly routine. Over the course of several weeks to months your body will begin to reset itself. You may feel very groggy at first as your body is adjusting. If you allow yourself to sleep and wake up naturally, you may even find that you sleep more than recommended, this will slowly even out. It turns out the deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between 10 p.m. – 2 a.m, afterwards sleep becomes more superficial.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Consistency reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle to promote restful sleep.
- Get outdoors and exposed to natural light.
- Try to wind down a half an hour before going to bed and reduce your light exposure.
- Create a sleeping ritual: Maybe a warm shower or bath, a good book, and a cup of herbal chamomile, mint or lavender tea.
- Avoid watching/using your TV, gaming consoles, computers, iPads, phones before bed or in bed…backlit light and games stimulate your brain.
- Take the TV out of the bedroom.
- If you need noise to sleep, turn on a fan or download some white noise to play in the background.
- Try to avoid caffeine after lunch, but especially after 2pm.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark, but allow natural light to wake you up in the morning.
- Exercise regularly but time it about 3-4 hours before bed.
- Limit alcohol use before bed. While alcohol can make you feel drowsy, you are in a sedated sleep, not a truly restorative sleep.