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Why You Can’t Pay off a Sleep Debt You’ve Accumulated Over the Week

Why You Can’t Pay off a Sleep Debt You’ve Accumulated Over the Week

We’ve all been there: you’ve woken up promptly at 6 or 7 in the morning Monday through Friday, dragging and exhausted as you got ready for work. Then when Saturday rolls around, you wake up and check your phone to discover it’s already noon.

While this is something we can relate to, it’s not actually “normal.” When you don’t sleep enough during the week yet wake up early every day, you may try to compensate for that sleep-deprivation you feel by sleeping in on the weekend. However, you may have noticed that even when you sleep until late in the day on a weekend, you still feel like you aren’t caught up in your rest. So you make the typical promises to yourself; you’ll get to bed sooner tonight, you won’t stay out so late next week, but those promises typically go unfulfilled and you typically go restless.

Sleeping can never be compensated

Sleep and your health isn’t like the bank; you can’t sleep off a debt you’ve accumulated during the week in an attempt to pay off the sleep debt. As you’ve probably noticed, no matter how hard you try, you can’t gain back that lost energy over the week, no matter how late you try to sleep on the weekends.

Let’s assume you were only able to catch six hours of shut eye Monday through Friday. You decide that if you can sleep an extra ten hours on the weekend, you’ll be able to catch up and essentially start over. While it’s a nice idea, it’s not a realistic one. In fact, your reacting times and ability to focus will tend to be worse than if you had pulled an all-nighter.

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If you slept poorly last night, or just not enough, you may have a chance to make up for it, but only if you make up for it tonight. If you try to catch on lost sleep over a long period of time, you won’t succeed.[1]

While some of you may have just read that and thought, ‘hmm, that means I can go to bed late tonight to finish up my project and I’ll just make up for it later,’ don’t be tempted. Sleeping late on the weekend to try to make up for the lost time will only result in further disrupting your sleeping pattern. You’ll only feel worse.[2]

One such study, done by Northwestern University, has shown that when animals are sleep deprived – even partially – over consecutive days, they actually make no attempt to make up for that lost sleep.[3] This study is the first to prove repeated (although partial) sleep loss negatively affects an animal’s ability to compensate for that lost rest. And as animals ourselves, we can learn from this fact.

Catching up a sleep debt later makes your brain suffer

No matter what you’re doing late at night, sleep should be a priority. The more tired you are, the harder it is to accomplish even the smallest task. Even menial tasks like participating in a conversation with someone can seem particularly challenging because focus requires an intensity that you can only achieve through rest. The distraction you experience due to sleep loss is serious. Not to mention how dangerous that can make something like driving.[4]

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Lack of sleep also impacts short-term memory. Research has shown that sleep deprivation has a big impact on verbal learning and cognitive understanding. The findings show that,[5]

“there are dynamic, compensatory changes in cerebral activation during verbal learning after sleep deprivation and implicate the PFC and parietal lobes in this compensation”

Essentially, we overcompensate in our sleepy state and hyper-focus on what someone is saying to us-but only in the moment. We quickly forget the information and that can lead to embarrassing forgotten events.

An extra hour of sleep a night for a rested feeling

Go to bed when you are tired; don’t try to fight it. Set reminders to get you to sleep earlier. You may start with setting an alarm to remind you to sleep half an hour earlier at night, and then reset it to an hour earlier a week later. Gradually you’ll get used to sleeping earlier.

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If you have to be on your phone or computer before bed, dim the screen brightness to aid you in the transition to darkness.

If at all possible, allow your body to wake you up naturally in the morning (this means no alarms). As your body resets itself over time, you may feel a bit worse before you feel better, but be patient.[6]

“As you erase sleep debt, your body will come to rest at a sleep pattern that is specifically right for you. Sleep researchers believe that genes—although the precise ones have yet to be discovered—determine our individual sleeping patterns. That more than likely means you can’t train yourself to be a “short sleeper”—and you’re fooling yourself if you think you’ve done it.

More than anything, make sure you listen to your body. If you feel you would sleep later than the alarm you have set in the morning, or like you need coffee in the morning to focus on anything, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting the amount of sleep you need. Don’t get caught up in aiming for 7 hours, 8 or even 9 hours of sleep. Instead, focus on what your body is telling you and how you feel when you personally sleep for 6,7, 8, etc. hours.

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Owe no sleep debt

Whether you’re a student, a professional, or a stay-at-home parent, remember that one of your most important and essential jobs is to sleep. While there are so many articles out there telling you how many hours you should get based on gender and age, none of those articles know your body like you do; so listen to it.

Whenever possible, skip the morning alarm. Enjoy coffee if it’s something you love, but if you realize you feel like you can’t function without it, determine how you could have slept better or longer the night before.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

More by this author

Jolie Choi

Having experienced her own extreme transformation process, Jolie strongly believes that staying healthy takes determined and consistent action.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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