Sleep Debt Defined

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The clocks at can quietly lull you to sleep at night and successfully wake you in the morning. The sleeping and waking cycle are things that actively involve our website. The human sleep cycle is something that is constantly researched, and knowing more about it is in all of our best interests. That is why we have decided to feature some recent findings about the sleep cycle in today’s blog.

In recent years, researchers have created a new term. It is called sleep debt. But what is sleep debt exactly?

Although we realize this term sounds like a bad loan you made with yourself in the dark, it is an actual scientific term. It’s something that sleep researchers are studying with great interest.

What Is Sleep Debt ?

Simply put, sleep debt is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep. Sleep debt is a condition that occurs after not sleeping enough for several days during the week. Sleep researchers often argue that sleep debt can’t actually be measured; however, there is little argument over its effects. Sleep debt can cause the following conditions:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Irritability
  • Memory lapses or loss
  • Risk of diabetes
  • Hallucinations
  • Symptoms similar to ADHD
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Impaired immune system
  • Tremors
  • Growth Suppression
  • Aches
  • Severe yawning
  • Decreased temperature
  • Impaired moral judgment

As you can plainly see, sleep debt does not have any good side effects. Obviously, sleep is a biological need. It’s much like the need for food and water. If sleep is totally deprived, humans can perish.

Millions of people are increasingly cheating themselves out of a good night’s sleep. On average, people sleep one hour less each night than they did 20-30 years ago.

Sleep Deprivation Meme

Stay up late…

We all know people who make the unlikely claim that they can get by on four or five hours of sleep at night. Whether they know it or not, that is highly unlikely. Many people feel as though sleep is wasted time; however, sleep is not just down time between episodes of living. According to Harvard University sleep researchers, the simple fact that humans spend approximately a third of their lives sleeping suggests that sleeping is more than just a necessary evil. A lot transpires while sleeping.

Failing to get the proper amount of sleep is not only associated with various illnesses, it is also responsible for many car accidents and medical errors. Sleep debt has also been associated with impaired job performance and low productivity. Also,getting a good night’s sleep may help make you smarter.

Humans are not nocturnal animals. We cannot see well at night. We are not very effective in darkness. However, within our evolutionary time scale, the invention of the light bulb redirected our time and light environment toward a nocturnal direction. With a mere flip of the switch, a wide range of nighttime activities opened up for us. Today, we live in a round-the-clock world that is always available for both work and play. Televisions and telephones are perpetually available, the Internet allows us to surf, shop, gamble, work or flirt until 3 a.m. Businesses stay open later than they did in the past. Tens of millions of people travel through multiple time zones each year. Wall Street traders often rise early in the morning or stay up late at night to keep up with the developments on Japan’s Nikkei exchange or the Deutsche Bundesbank. Consequently, we are sleeping less than we have in prior generations.

How Much Sleep Debt Are We Accruing?

A National Sleep Foundation poll showed that American adults are averaging 6.8 hours of sleep during weeknights. This is more than an hour less than they need.

The change not only reflects that we are sleeping less, but it also reflects that many of us are sleeping during the day. In the United States, six to eight million workers work at night. They are disrupting their sleep patterns in ways that are not necessarily adaptable.

Can We Pay Sleep Debt Back?

Getting enough sleep to feel better in the short-term will work; however, over time, sleep debt will accrue and your sleep loan may default in some of the serious symptoms mentioned earlier.

To put it simply, your mother was right! If you do not get enough sleep you will get sick, fat, and you simply won’t function very well. That is why it is so important to make the time to get the proper amount of sleep. The long-term effects of sleep debt are obviously damaging, but the short-term is also not worth accruing.

Apparently, we lose at least 20 percent of our efficiency if we don’t get a full eight hours of sleep each night. Sleep researchers like to compare two hypothetical people in an explanation of why we should not accrue sleep debt. In the comparison, one person sleeps for eight hours, and the other sleeps for four hours; the latter person is awake for 20 hours a day, compared to 16 hours for the first person. If the person operating on four hours of sleep is 20 percent less efficient while they are awake, then in the 20 hours of being awake, he or she will only be able to get 16 hours of work done, so it’s a wash. The difference is that the second person is living on only four hours of sleep a night. He or she is losing a lot and gaining nothing. It will be seen in their health, their social interactions and their ability to learn and think clearly.

Effects of Sleep Debt

Not getting enough sleep also reduces the antibodies we produce, and it reduces our ability to process food properly. There is no way we can cram the equivalent of eight hours of sleep into four or five hours of sleep at night. If we do, we will begin to accrue sleep debt, and over time, this causes irrevocable damage to our bodies and our minds.

The primary focus of sleep research is in dreams. Researchers are trying to find out whether or not dreams make us smarter. When we sleep, our brains receive no outside input. That frees the neurons in our brains so that we can use them to understand and solve problems differently. It appears that this research is on the right track.

The Zen Approach

Yoga instructors say that meditation clears the mind. In meditation, the mind is on pause. It is really hard to slow the mind, but according to meditation experts, making the effort is worth it.

At the University of Wisconsin, Professor Richie Davidson has scanned the brains of monks while they were in meditation. They consistently emitted a high frequency of gamma waves, which are linked to learning and plasticity. The theory is that by quieting the mind in meditation, we are better preparing it for the stimulus of learning.

Considering this research, is it possible for us to evolve into having to sleep less through meditation methods? That question remains unanswered, but if we can, it’s likely to take quite a long time. Until then, we will have to do things the old-fashioned way. We will just have to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Internet, please let me sleep!

Internet, please let me sleep!

It is probably wise to curtail frequent visits to the local coffee shop. Schedule enough time to get some sleep so that you can stay away from incurring sleep debt. If you need a few tips on how to get to sleep, we have some on our earlier blogs. We realize that because of your active lifestyles, getting to sleep on time can be difficult; however, getting enough sleep is imperative.

Of course, our various clocks and alarms can assist you with the task of getting to sleep and waking up on time each day.

If you would like to discuss the topic of sleep debt, leave a message here on our blog. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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