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Sleep Debt Exists, But Can You Ever Catch Up?

The answer is more complicated than you may think.

5/29/2020 3:01:00 PM

The answer is more complicated than you may think.

What you need to know about sleep deprivation and its effects.

.As you work on repaying your sleep debt, focus more on a habit of night-time sleep. When you’re running on low sleep, it may seem like a smart idea to sneak off for a nap during the day — especially if you’re struggling to stay awake. But the key to repaying sleep debt, Rinderknecht says, is sleeping for seven to nine continuous hours, multiple nights in a row, so you can experience all the sleep phases you need to restore your body. “Getting that deep, non-REM sleep is really the restorative sleep that benefits patients from a health standpoint,” he says.

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Taking a long nap, especially if it’s too late in the day, can actually disrupt your sleep cycle and keep you from those continuous hours of sleep you need. If you absolutely can’t keep your eyes open, or you’re chronically sleep-deprived, Avidan recommends a quick, 15- to 20-minute power nap between 1 and 3 pm, then going to bed at your regular time. “We often see people who are sleeping in and taking a nap for two hours and then when they try to sleep they can’t because their drive for sleep is partially restored by that power nap,” he says.

How can people practice better sleep habits?It’s definitely possible — albeit a little difficult — to counter the effects of sleep deprivation. Rinderknecht says getting the seven to nine hours you need each night is a far better way to maintain healthy sleep habits than trying to make up for it later on. To improve your habits so you don’t go into sleep debt, Rinderknecht recommends basic “sleep hygiene” practices. The first thing to focus on is attempting to keep a regular sleep schedule. “Our bodies work on a circadian rhythm, so to work with your body, go to bed at a similar time each night,” he says.

When you go to sleep, give your body cues to rest by cozying up in a dark, quiet room. Avidan suggests keeping your thermostat set to 65 to 67 degrees when possible, since cooler temperatures can help the body release melatonin, which promotes sleep.Another important factor in sleep hygiene: Keeping technology out of the bedroom. Because blue-light released from phone, TV, and computer screens has been shown to

disrupt the circadian rhythm, it’s best to put your devices down two or three hours before you plan to go to bed.What you eat and drink can also play a role in how well you sleep. Rinderknecht suggests avoiding sugary foods and drinks, along with caffeine, at night time. It’s also best to avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. Though a glass of wine before bed might make you sleepy, Rinderknecht says drinking actually results in “sleep fragmentation,” which means you’ll get less restful sleep and may potentially wake up earlier. And while exercise can be beneficial in promoting good sleep in general, don’t work out too hard before bedtime — your body releases endorphins when you work out, which he says don’t create an environment conducive to sleep.

If you’ve adjusted your lifestyle but you’re still not sleeping well, Avidan says it’s important to rule out underlying medical conditions like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, both of which can impact sleep quality and quantity. Talk to your doctor about your concerns so you can come up with a plan for sleeping — and feeling — better. “We want people to make sleep a priority,” says Pelayo. “You can get by with less sleep, but that doesn’t mean you’re at your best.”

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