Most people believe that they can skip an hour’s sleep and not be affected. This is not true, unfortunately. Just an hour less sleep at night will affect your moods and your responses throughout the following day. It’s also a common belief that if you miss sleep during the week, that having a good sleep in on Sunday morning will catch you up. While an extra injection of sleep will definitely help, it won’t actually undo all the damage missing sleep in the first place will cause. The only way to ensure you don’t suffer with sleep deprivation is to make sure you get the right amount of hours every night. Yeah, sounds easy, doesn’t it. Don’t you just hate it when people do that?
The fact is, if were easy to get eight hours sleep every night, we’d all be doing it. And that’s not taking into account the people who actually have difficulty sleeping even under perfect circumstances. But there are things you can do to help get that sleep – or at least, get more sleep than you normally do. Any improvement on sleep deprivation will improve your health and overall well-being. It will also make each day just that little bit better – so it’s definitely worth the effort.
Most adults need between 7.5 – 9 hours sleep each and every night. Finding the right amount for you is probably the hardest part, and one you won’t uncover until you’ve caught up a little on your sleep debt.
And that’s the most important part of getting on top of your sleeping problems: catching up. Any attempt you make to enforce solid sleeping habits will be hampered if you haven’t first given yourself a chance to get back some of the missed sleep that’s making you so drowsy right now.
So the first step in getting your life back on track with sleep is to give yourself time to have that sleep in, or to schedule in some naps and some early nights.
And before you start saying, wait, I don’t have time for early nights – I should just point out that your body doesn’t care whether you have time or not. Your body only knows that it needs rest. Here’s a few pointers on how to catch up on your sleep debt:
- Set yourself an absolute bed-time at least an hour before you usually go to bed. If you need to, set an alarm clock to remind you fifteen minutes before that it’s almost bed time.
- Tell everyone in your household that this bed-time is absolute and ask them not to disturb you after that time (this could be the hardest part of all to achieve – but give it a go)
- If you’re having a sleep in, make sure you turn your alarm clock off so you don’t get woken up too early. If you still wake up at your normal time, roll over, get comfy and try to remember the details of the last dream you had. If you’re really tired, you’ll probably go right back to sleep.
- Your body has its own sleeping cycle – which means that if you’re not in a sleepy point of the cycle, it’s pointless trying to make yourself go to sleep. Wait until you start to feel sleepy, then switch off the lights, put the book down and let yourself go to sleep.
- Have a nap on the weekends. This can sometimes be the best way to catch up on sleep. If you can get some time without other pressures calling on you, then you can truly rest without questions of alarms etc.
Of course, all these points require you to be able to arrange your life so you have this time – and I guess that’s the real crux of the matter. Finding time isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s going to be impossible. But it’s a bit like saving up for something – you need to put the money in the bank first before you can go buy it. If you catch up on your sleep debt first, then when you’re fully rested, you’ll find you are so much more productive and alert – making it that much easier to do those things making you busy.
And one good sleep isn’t going to be enough to catch up on your missed sleep for the whole year. It will take about two weeks for you to finally get to a point where you’re not feeling tired all the time. So give it a try for a few weeks and see how you feel. If you’re waking up on your own feeling rested in the mornings, then you’re finally getting it right.
In the next series, we’ll take a look at exactly how you can get yourself into – and maintain – a quality regular sleep pattern.
- The dangers of sleep deprivation (guardian.co.uk)
- Energy cost of sleep deprivation found (time4sleep.co.uk)
- Sleep deprivation increases stroke and heart disease risk (guardian.co.uk)