By Gillian B
When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling well rested?
Most of us acknowledge at some level that we need sleep to function and get through our day without being totally miserable. We feel more alert, more energetic, happier, and better able to cope with a good night’s sleep. However, experiencing this contrast only begins to explain why good quality sleep is necessary for optimal health.
You can think of energy as money. Sleep is our daily deposit; that buffers our mental and physical energy expenditures. To keep our energy bank account afloat, we need to be mindful of our expenses but also put in our 7-9 hours a night.
It comes down to simple math, if we lose just an hour of sleep one night, the only way to recover the loss is to sleep an extra hour whether in a nap or the following evening. The problem is, most busy people are cutting their sleep short every night, so they never get a chance to catch up and, therefore, get in over their heads with energetic debt. Overtired becomes the new baseline state of being.
Unfortunately, unlike financial debt, we do not get any monthly reminders that we’ve fallen behind. Our bodies are very forgiving, but eventually debt collection comes when we burn out or get sick when the body demands rest.
Lack of sleep is very hard on the body and hurts our cognitive processes in many ways. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem-solving. As our energetic debt slowly accumulates, the health consequences increase, putting us at growing risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss.
Sleep Debt is Dangerous
In addition to putting your body at risk for chronic illness, being perpetually overtired is hazardous to those around you.
There is nothing worse than feeling sleepy when driving. People have all sorts of weird tricks to try and keep themselves up, but the reality is that Drowsiness can slow reaction time as much as driving drunk.
Falling asleep at the wheel causes thousands of accidents every year and is something that is entirely avoidable with the implementation of healthy sleep habits.
Sleep Debt Makes You Forgetful
We’ve all experienced the brain dead feeling after a late night out. Even if you were not drinking you often still feel hazy, and a bit hung over.
Animal and human studies suggest that the quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. Good sleep habits help learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus or pay attention and, therefore, cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.
Sleep Debt Kills Your Sex Drive
I think we can all agree that sleep deprivation largely impacts energy levels. When you are in chronic sleep debt, the last thing you think of or want to do is have sex. All you want to do is sleep!
Sleep specialists say that depleted energy, sleepiness, and increased tension may be largely to blame for low libido and less interest in sex. Improve your sleep habits to get the mojo rising!
Sleep Debt Makes You Age Faster
If you are in the habit of skimping on sleep, you are not only putting your health on the line but you are also causing your body to age quicker. When you do not get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
As well, sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone, which as we age, helps increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones.
They call it ‘beauty sleep’ for a reason!
Sleep Debt Can Make You Fat
When it comes to weight, it may be true that if you snooze, you lose.
Lack of sleep can cause an increase in hunger and appetite. Not only does sleep loss appear to stimulate appetite. It also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. If we are chronically overtired, overeating and likely under-exercising, we are bound to gain weight.
As well, the elevated cortisol levels that are associated with sleep debt contribute to weight gain, especially in the midsection.
The Sleep Debt Solution
The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, Dr. Epstein advises us to avoid regarding sleep as an indulgence or luxury. Rather, we should recognize that adequate sleep is just as important for health as diet and exercise are. To that end, he offers the following advice:
Settle short-term debt: If you missed 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week until you have repaid the debt fully.
Address a long-term debt: Plan a vacation with a light schedule and few obligations. Then, turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you wake naturally.
Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle: Once you’ve determined how much sleep you really need, factor it into your daily schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays. –Harvard Health
If you still struggle with getting a good night’s sleep then read my article How To Get The Best Sleep Ever to brush up on sleep tips!
And check our video about What Lack Of Sleep Does To Your Body: