This is an excerpt from Life, Awakened – a series of videos and articles that promote harnessing the power of sleep for those in pursuit of an active, healthy lifestyle.
As much as people try to prioritize solid rest, a full night of shuteye can escape even the most dedicated. When you lose out on it, you rack up sleep debt.
Think of it as the equivalent of credit card charges: Instead of losing money, you lost an opportunity to sleep, and now you’re in the red. For example, someone who needs eight hours of rest per night but only gets six accumulates 14 hours of sleep debt per week.
It's no joke: New research shows skimping on sleep can shorten your lifespan. People who consistently get fewer than five hours of shuteye per night have a 65 percent higher risk of dying early compared to those who log an average of six to seven hours. And while conventional wisdom says you should keep the same sleep-wake schedule every day, this study found that people who made up for deficits by dozing extra on the weekends lived just as long as those who slept well every night.
In other words, you can, and should, make up for lost sleep, says Raman Malhotra, MD, associate professor of neurology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Repaying your debts is pretty straightforward: To catch up, you should sleep for a couple more hours each night than you normally would. If you have 10 hours of sleep debt, Malhotra recommends getting three to four extra hours over the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the next week until you're breaking even again. Try not to sleep more than nine hours, the healthy upper limit for adults, at once.
You can also do damage control through napping. “Keep them to 20 minutes or less, otherwise you run the risk of feeling more tired,” he notes. “Napping can help with daytime fatigue but it’s not always the best quality of sleep.”
Spreading the extra hours out over a few nights is better than making them all up in one fell sweep by seriously oversleeping, says Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “First, you can’t sleep in until 2 p.m. most of the time because your circadian clock will wake you up,” she explains. And if you do, it’ll be hard to fall asleep that night, which sets you up for another week of subpar rest.
Bigger sleep debts could take several weeks to pay off. If your schedule allows for it, you can speed up the process by planning an obligation-free vacation, like one centered around lounging on the beach. That way you can go to bed early and doze into mid-morning without setting an alarm, Malhotra says.
While catching up on rest can revive slumping energy levels, you don’t want to make a habit of it. “The best way to overcome a week of not sleeping enough is to look carefully at why you’ve fallen into that pattern and make some adjustments so you’re able to sleep more on a regular basis,” says Martin. That’ll help you avoid the problem altogether instead of relying on damage control.
Optimal health is an equilateral triangle of fitness, nutrition, and sleep. Furthermore and DUXIANA have partnered to bring you a series of articles helping you prioritize this triangle and optimize your performance as a result. Prepare for an awakening.