I’m deep in debt. Sleep debt.
Exhaustion took over this weekend, after weeks of running on empty and feeling stretched in a million different directions. I’ve given too much of myself to other people and causes and I got myself into a bit of a funk. It’s a slippery slope when I skip out on simple but structural self-care that keeps my motor running: mediating, walking, not saying yes to everything, getting enough water, vegetables and especially sleep.
And I know I’m not alone in my sleep funk. My slunk? Very few Canadians get the recommended 8 or more hours of sleep each night and the impact can be devastating:
• Decreased memory and ability to concentrate
• Weakened immune system
• An unneeded surge of stress hormones
• Disruption of the body’s normal metabolism
• Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and disease
• Heightened risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. Need I say more?
People who chronically fail to get enough sleep may actually be cutting their lives short. A little depressing, I know. For years, psychologists and psychiatrists have been advocating that one of the most significant and overlooked public health concerns is that many adults are chronically sleep deprived. If you don’t believe it, just look at Donald Trump. That guy’s setting the world on fire on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.
I love writing but writing this blog even made me tired. I started writing it on Sunday night and decided to pack it in and go to bed early. I went to bed at 7 p.m., woke up to a child bouncing on me at 6:45 a.m. and guess what? I was still tired! Parents – you know what I’m talking about! Sleep debt can build up from weeks, months and even years of inadequate sleep. Most people need an extra 60-90 minutes sleep over time just to break even and start replenishing the well.
Experiments by psychologist David Dinges, PhD, showed that two weeks of limited sleep — about four hours per night — created brain deficits just as severe as those seen in people who hadn’t slept at all for three nights. As sleep deprivation continues over time, attention, memory and other cognitive functions suffer. Revisit my earlier comment about Trump.
So catch up with a nap, right?
No! Napping isn’t the cure-all either. Sure, it can help reduce a sleep debt, but it’s no substitute for healthy sleep habits. There are long-term benefits to maintaining consistent, predictable sleep patterns. And where naps do improve cognitive functioning after periods of sleep deprivation, they don’t do much to repair the negative mood that results from sleep loss (see Dinges et al., 1988). ‘Hangry,’ there’s a new mash-up in town and it’s called ‘slangry.’ You don’t want to go there!
So you know what my challenge is for you this week, right? Get more sleep! I challenge you to go to bed one hour earlier this week (or more) for consecutive nights. If you’re getting sleepy during long meetings or drives, chances are you’re sleep deprived. So am I! Let’s do this!
Wishing you long, restful nights of sweet slumber.