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Published on October 13, 2017

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

Gone through a few heartbreaks and lost hundreds of friends but I am still happy with my life.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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