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Constantly Exhausted? This Is The Truth About Sleep Debt

Words by Jen Nurick

Tableside remarks of exhaustion, audible yawning and emojis that snooze are common conversational fodder. Every day we recognise these signs of sleepiness—lamenting the additional hour poured over an extra episode the night before—and compensate with over-caffeination or refined sugars to tide us over until bedtime. Then, in an effort of self-improvement, we ready ourselves for an early night in and—having redistributed our hours of Netflix and chill—meditate on why we still wake up feeling tired. Enter Sleep Debt or Sleep Deficit: a negative log of the hours of sleep an individual has gone without. And just like the real thing, debt of this kind is not easily repaid to your sleep bank with some extra shut eye. Here, we unpack symptoms, causes and consequences to—you guessed it—incentivise your boss to let you leave early and catch more of those zzz’s.

What is sleep debt?

When we talk about sleep, discussion generally falls under one of two factors: our circadian rhythms (an individual’s 24-hour internal clock of biological processes) and our homeostatic sleep drive (the increase of pressure that arises as a result of sleep deprivation). Sleep debt relates to this second factor: our homeostatic sleep drive. It is the negative accumulation of hours of lost sleep that tally up when we don’t get enough rest. It can be—but is not exclusively—the result of insomnia, boredom or feelings of isolation.

So how much rest do we need?

Everyone is different. However, it is generally believed that in order to function at our best, individuals should be getting an optimal 7-9 hours of shut eye each night. With averages considerably lower than that—ranging more realistically between 5-6 hours of sleep per night—it’s fair to assume that the majority of us probably accumulate some sleep debt on a regular basis (just consider how inclined you are to ‘snooze’ your alarm each morning).

Are there consequences for accumulating too much sleep debt?

Although no claims of individuals being chased down by sleep banks have been lodged, a consistent accumulation of sleep debt may result in mild to severe consequences. These may or may not include weight gain, memory loss, worse mood, worse cognitive performance, impaired driving, increased fatigue and increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like diabetes.

Can you repay sleep debt?

Unfortunately, unlike monetary currencies, the value of sleep is priceless and sleep debt cannot be repaid. Snoozing on weekends or taking afternoon naps during the week may quell short-term fatigue but it won’t absolve you of your sleep deficit. There is no way to buy sleep in instalments (not yet, anyways), but there are practices to put in place to ensure you get your 7-9 per night…

Ten ways to curb sleep debt

1. Nap less!

This might seem like common sense, but napping after 3PM could result in a harder time trying to fall asleep later at night. If you are so inclined to snooze during the day, set aside a half hour between 11-3PM and avoid the compulsion any time afterwards.

2. Reduce your caffeine intake

You’ve probably heard it before but take note: caffeine may disrupt your sleep. Like napping, if caffeine is part of your daily routine already, prioritise your cup of coffee (or two!) before 10AM to curb late nights lying awake.

3. Exercise regularly

We all know exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins make us happy (thanks, Elle Woods). Research conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests exercise is important to regulate sleep, but try to avoid fitting in a session within three hours of your bedtime to promote optimal rest.

4. Keep a sleep journal

To encourage a better sleep routine, try jotting down your nightly sleep patterns. Include the times you woke and went to bed, note any disruptions or patterns affecting your sleep throughout the night and keep track of sleep debt accumulation more easily to help stabilise your all-important downtime.

5. Take a tech-tox

This is another well-researched no brainer. Limit your use of technological devices and finish use at least an hour before bedtime. Then, keep your gadgets away from your bed to promote a sleep sanctuary and perhaps alternate your iPhone for a candle, a crystal or a hard cover book.

6. Try meditating

Meditation exercises force us to concentrate on the breath, distilling wandering thoughts in the mind to focus on the task at hand. Even if you are time poor or your head has already hit the pillow, there are a wealth of meditation and mindfulness apps available online that incentivise good sleeping practices in as long—or as little—time as you have to spare.

7. Ensure your sleeping space is dark, cool and quiet

To create a sleep sanctuary, it is important to optimise your chances of restful sleeping as much as you can. Mute the television noise in the background, close your screens and avoid using heaters throughout the night to allow your body to switch off and rehabilitate itself before morning.

8. Maintain consistent times for waking up and going to sleep

While we won’t argue against the indulgence of a sleep in on weekends, attempt to regulate your sleeping patterns by setting an alarm at the same time each morning and readying for bed at the same time each night. This way, your body learns your sleeping patterns and is prepared for slumber when the time comes.

9. Wherever possible, commit to the recommended 7-9 hours sleep

This goes without saying—we would if we could, but it is easier said than done. In the meantime, make habit of the abovementioned tips and prioritise your zzz’s in style.

10. Sleep in linen (of course)

Our linens are temperature-regulating, anti-static, moisture-wicking and sustainable. This makes Bed Threads cool in the summer, warm in the winter and ideal for sleep optimisation. But more on that here.

Now that we’re on the topic, here are 10 simple ways to enhance the quality of your sleep – starting from tonight! – plus the other reasons why we use pure 100% flax linen only.

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