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Sleep Deprivation: How To Cope & Repay Your Sleep Debt

Sleep problems affect a staggering one third of Brits, so it’s surprising that the issue is often overlooked.

Sleep is essential to functioning well, even on the most simplistic level, but with work and school commitments, parenting, and socialising, many of us simply aren’t giving ourselves enough time to slumber. On average, British people are undersleeping by an hour every night, missing out on almost a whole night of sleep each week, which really racks up some serious sleep debt and health issues.

If you’re affected by sleep problems, then you’re not alone and you can rectify the situation. Here at SleepyPeople, the UK's leading online retailer of pillows, duvets, mattress toppers, mattress protectors and more, we’ve constructed a guide, with the help of ten sleep experts, to show you how you can cope with the symptoms of sleep deprivation and pay back your sleep debt.

What is sleep debt?

You accumulate sleep debt - also known as sleep deficit - by going through periods of sleep deprivation and it is said to be as dangerous as alcohol abuse.

To work out the amount of sleep debt you have, you should take the amount of sleep you actually get, away from the amount of sleep you should be getting, and you’ll be left with the amount of sleep debt that you’ve accumulated through the night, week, month, or year.

As is the case with other types of debt, sleep debt needs to be repaid and, if you don’t repay it for an extended period of time, you’re at risk of developing some very serious health issues. 

Causes of sleep deprivation

Voluntary factors

Humans are notorious for voluntarily depriving themselves of sleep. The main culprit for this is that many people simply don’t realise how much sleep they actually need, so they don’t go to sleep early enough in the evening.

With 24-hour internet access and many people having televisions and computers in their bedrooms, it’s hardly surprising that people are tempted to stay up later to catch up on the latest TV series or instant message their friends. Also, socialising late into the night can be tempting for a lot of people, and this often leads to voluntary sleep deprivation. 

Work or school

People who work in shifts or have to travel a lot for work are likely to have irregular sleeping patterns, which can lead to sleep deprivation. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to take work home with them if they have a heavy workload - this can eat away into the night and the pressures of work can increase stress levels, making it difficult to both fall and stay asleep.

Similarly, teenagers and young people are susceptible to not getting enough sleep due to the adolescent change in the wake-sleep cycle. This change means that teenagers tend to feel the need to fall asleep later in the day, but they still have to wake up at the same time to go to school or college. Because of this, long-term sleep deprivation is common in young people. 

Illness

Mild illnesses like the common cold, flu, and tonsillitis alter your breathing, which can disturb your sleep through the night. Other illnesses like the sickness bug can deprive you of sleep, as can pains and aches.

Habits

In many cases, sleep deprivation can be caused by bad bedtime habits. Consuming stimulants like caffeine after 3pm can be significantly detrimental to sleep, and consuming alcohol before bed, although it can initially help you fall asleep, can interrupt the quality of the sleep that you actually get. Also, exercising, eating big meals, and watching bright screens before bed can hinder your sleep, causing sleep deprivation.

Environment

Sleeping in a noisy or uncomfortable environment can be detrimental to the amount of Zs you catch each night. Ideally, the room in which you sleep should be dark, cool, and quiet.

If your sleep environment is too warm, you live in a noisy area, or you have bright lights in your bedroom (such as a mobile phone screen lighting up), this could seriously affect the amount and quality of sleep you get and you could end up being sleep deprived.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea occurs when there is a reduced amount of airflow going into the lungs, caused by a collapse of the upper airway during sleep. This can cause loud snoring, which makes the individual wake up prematurely, and it can cause the individual to wake up prematurely from lack of oxygen, restricting the amount of sleep that the individual can get.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a fairly common medical condition, affecting just under a third of the population. It’s characterised by having difficulty falling asleep at night, feeling tired and fatigued during the day, but finding it difficult to nap, and waking up early, but not being able to go back to sleep.

Having a baby

New parents are particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation as newborn babies are notorious for waking throughout the night. It’s common for some new parents to only get about four hours of sleep per night, so having a baby is a key contributor to sleep deprivation. 

Sleep facts quotes2

The symptoms of sleep deprivation 

The symptoms of sleep deprivation differ greatly and people will experience them to varying degrees. The most common symptoms can range from mild to extreme and are as follows: 

Tiredness and fatigue

This is the most common symptom of sleep deprivation, where you get the powerful urge to sleep. In some cases, this desire to sleep can allow you to sleep and rectify short-term sleep deprivation. However, in other cases, it can lead to a state called fatigue. Fatigue can be both a physical and mental state where you feel exhausted and weak, which can seriously impact your day to day life.

Irritability

Not getting enough sleep heightens feelings of irritability, short-temperedness, and stress.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that, when participants even moderately deprived themselves of sleep over the course of a week, they felt significantly more anxious, sad, and irritable than when they allowed themselves enough sleep.

Anxiety

Long-term sleep deprivation heightens the risk of developing a mood disorder like anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep can induce feelings of anxiety because it decreases the ability to cope with stressful situations. However, those who are most likely to suffer from symptoms of anxiety from lack of sleep are those who already have difficulty with anxiety, because sleep deprivation worsens it tenfold.

Hallucinations and disorientation

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation can have psychiatric consequences too. Hallucinating usually involves seeing something that isn’t actually there, and this is one of the most common psychiatric symptoms of sleep deprivation. Hallucinating can also involve hearing things that aren’t there, but this is a less common symptom.

The symptoms of disorientation often include losing track of the time and date, confusion, and in some extreme cases, the individual will lose touch with reality and struggle to remember who they are. Luckily, although hallucinations and disorientation are perhaps the most concerning of the sleep deprivation symptoms, psychiatric symptoms are often the easiest to resolve; a bit of rest can usually rectify hallucinations and disorientation.

Poor concentration

This symptom can be either major or subtle - you may not even notice that you are experiencing it. In order to concentrate properly and maintain your peak performance, you need to be well rested. As a result, you may find that your ability to plan, organise, and prioritise is impaired. 

Memory and thinking problems

Getting enough sleep is key to learning and retaining information. When we’re asleep, we process memories, imprinting the day’s events into our brains. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain can’t process your memories as well as it usually would, causing you to both learn and remember less.

Additionally, as sleep deprivation causes poor concentration, we fail to notice parts of our days that we would usually remember.

The effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body

Because the feeling of sleep deprivation is so unpleasant, it should come as no surprise that it has hugely detrimental effects on our bodily functions. In fact, sleep deprivation affects almost every part of our bodies and minds. 

Cognitive dysfunction

If you’re sleep deprived, it’s likely that your brain isn’t performing to its full potential; when this interferes with your day to day life, it’s known as cognitive dysfunction. 

Many symptoms fall into the category of cognitive dysfunction, the most common include risk taking, poor planning, long and short-term memory problems, lack of innovation, and a reduced ability to properly correct errors.

Depression

A study has suggested that people who have difficulty falling asleep or have trouble staying asleep are the most likely to develop depression.

Depression, amongst other mood disorders, can be linked to sleep problems. Considering that even if you miss an hour or so of sleep in one night, you can become irritable and easily emotionally overwhelmed, it isn’t surprising that holding long-term sleep debt can eventually lead to depression.

Weight gain

When it comes to your appetite, the body produces two hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals to your body when you’re hungry, while leptin signals to your body when it’s time to stop eating.

When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces less leptin, so you have an increased appetite. After a prolonged period of sleep deprivation, this change in hormone distribution can cause you to gain weight. Also, when you’re sleep deprived your metabolism slows, which can lead to weight gain over time.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t break down blood sugar properly, which deprives your cells of energy. Sleep is vital to this process because not getting enough sleep can cause the cells that produce insulin to not work to their full potential, depriving you of enough insulin. This, along with the increase in appetite that falls hand in hand with sleep deprivation, can lead to an occurrence of type 2 diabetes in those who regularly don’t get enough sleep.

Microsleep

Microsleep, not to be confused with fatigue, refers to the short and unintentional periods of attention loss that a person endures when they haven’t had enough sleep. This extremely dangerous effect of sleep deprivation can involve extended eye closure, staring blankly, and head snapping - these symptoms can last from anywhere between a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes.

Drivers and office workers are amongst the most prone to microsleep because motorway driving and staring at a computer screen are monotonous tasks - people who experience mircosleeping often awake with a jolt of the head. 

Delirium

Lack of sleep is one of the most common causes of delirium, which is embodied by confusion, a short attention span, the inability to retain information, and in some extreme cases, hallucinations and memory loss can occur.

This effect of sleep deprivation can happen to anyone who hasn’t had enough sleep, but it is elderly people who are most likely to experience it. Although delirium can be easily rectified by plenty of rest, it can be a dangerous and frightening experience for the individual suffering and those around them. 

Heart disease

A 2011 study from the European Heart Journal found that people who don’t get enough sleep over a long period of time are 48% more likely to die from or acquire heart disease.

Because most people’s blood pressure falls when they’re deeply asleep, those who don’t get enough sleep might not experience this drop in blood pressure as much, which could be detrimental to their heart health. Also, the stress that can be caused by sleep deprivation can have an impact on blood pressure and heart health. 

Death

Although this is an extremely uncommon effect of sleep deprivation, it can happen. In 2012, a Chinese man died after going 11 days without sleep. The 26-year-old was allegedly keeping himself awake to watch every game in the European Championship, which was televised at night in China. It remains unclear why it’s possible to die from sleep deprivation, but nevertheless, it is possible. 

How to cope with the symptoms of sleep deprivation

The symptoms of sleep deprivation can be debilitating, and you may feel like you’re trapped in a rut. To help you out, we at Sleepy People have contacted ten sleep experts who want to share their advice on how to cope with the symptoms of sleep deprivation. 

We faced our group of ten experts with the question ‘What are the best ways to cope with the symptoms of sleep deprivation?’, and here’s what they had to say... 

Fancy sharing our infographic?

Tammy Ridlington

The Insomnia Clinic

www.theinsomniaclinic.co.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/insomniaclinic

Twitter: @insomnia_clinic

“The best way to cope is to not 'catch up' on sleep. This may be through napping or getting an early night to compensate. This may lead to further problems with insomnia. So if you are tired, rest, relax, but don’t 'catch up'. The evidence-based treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy or CBTi and more information can be found via our website.”

Kathryn Pinkham

The Insomnia Clinic

www.theinsomniaclinic.co.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/insomniaclinic

Twitter: @insomnia_clinic

 “A short, well-timed nap. No longer than 25 minutes and no later in the day than 3pm.

Have plenty of water and exercise to keep energy levels up, and address your sleep problem with CBT for insomnia, the recommended treatment for sleep problems, which The Insomnia Clinic offers!”

Rachel McGuinness

Zest Lifestyle

www.zestlifestyle.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zestlifestyle

Twitter: @zestlifestyle 

Sleep: we spend a third of our lives doing it, but for some it is a real struggle.  So how do you get your sleep back in sync when you’re sleep deprived?  Here are seven top tips to get back your sleep mojo.

Have a consistent wake up time even at weekends

Your body clock craves routine; it doesn’t understand sleeping in at weekends. Ever wonder why you don’t want to go to bed at your normal time on a Sunday night and then can’t wake up on Monday morning?  Getting up late on a Saturday and Sunday morning after going to bed later on a Friday and Saturday night is enough to shift your body clock and cause social jet lag.

Lie in for no more than 30 minutes. If you’re really tired, you could try a 30-minute nap, but only do this between 1pm – 3pm; however, don’t make a habit of this if it disrupts your ability to fall asleep later.

To get the benefits of quality deep sleep, go to sleep no later 11pm

Most adults start to feel drowsy around 9pm as the urge to sleep builds and we feel more tired.  Living in our modern, 24/7 stimulating world it’s so easy to override what our body clock is naturally trying to do - send us to sleep.  We get most of our deep restorative sleep during the first third of the night, which means lights out by 11pm at the latest. Deep sleep is where the magic happens – your body is repairing and syncing all its systems just like a computer during this time.

Avoid bright artificial light

Blue light from screens such as computers, laptops, TVs, phones, tablets, lights with LED bulbs, and even the new LED street lighting during the evening disturbs our sleep.  The blue light is the equivalent of bright sunshine shining in our eyes.

Too much blue light in the evening stops the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleep (otherwise known as the Dracula hormone as it only comes out when it’s dark!).  Turn off your tech and the TV, and dim your lights at least 60 minutes before going off to bed so that melatonin can do its thing and send you off into the land of nod.

Relax before bedtime

The key to getting a good night of shut eye is relaxation; use the 60 minutes before going to bed to take a chill pill and wind down. Indulging in the latest box set or Scandi TV thriller, watching the news or scrolling through your social media feeds will stimulate or stress you, not relax you.  Read a book or a magazine, listen to an audio book, listen to soothing music, meditate or try some gentle yoga to help you ease your mind and body into a relaxed state before sleep time.  Some people also swear by a pre-bedtime bath or shower.

Create a sleep sanctuary

Your bedroom is primarily for sleep and love – nothing else, so create an environment that makes it suitable for just that, a relaxing, sensory experience. Your bedroom needs to be dark. Are your curtains or blinds doing their job?

Make sure it’s clutter free and tidy, a messy bedroom unconsciously stresses you. The optimum temperatures for good sleep are between 16 – 18°C. Also open the windows if possible to allow some fresh air in.  Use a few drops of lavender oil either in a diffuser or on your pillow as a sensory cue for you to fall asleep; the scent of lavender decreases heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a more relaxed state.  If you’re disturbed by external noise or a snoring partner, have some white noise playing in the background such as the sound of ocean waves or rainfall, or wear ear plugs!

Avoid the sleep thieves

Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants and will rob you of your sleep. Caffeine isn’t just found in coffee, but in tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks.  Cut the caffeine from lunchtime onwards, so it has enough time to work its way out of your system.

Alcohol may seem like a great way of numbing the senses and sending you to sleep, but it wakes you up in the night, dehydrates you, and disturbs your dream sleep.  Both are also probably the cause of your nocturnal trips to the loo.

Also avoid heavy meals too close to bedtime; your digestion takes around three hours to do its job, so going to bed on a full stomach isn’t a good idea.

Empty your brain before bedtime!

Write down your to-do lists or worries ideally before you wind down, getting everything out of your head and onto paper. This is so that you can fall asleep easily, or if you do you wake up in the night, your ‘busy’ brain doesn’t kick in preventing you from getting back to sleep.  Some people find writing a journal before bedtime useful or having a notebook specifically for their to-do lists so that nothing gets forgotten before turning in.”

Sondra Kornblatt

Restful Insomnia 

www.restfulinsomnia.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RestfulInsomnia/

Twitter: @RestfulInsomnia

“Sleep deprivation can make you crazy during the day--you can’t remember your name if you’re reading it from your driver's license. But it's really frustrating at night, when you're so wound up you can't get the sleep you crave.

“While sleep is a miraculous gift, it's not the only thing to help you renew. Deep rest will give you the benefits of sleep, improving your memory, health, and emotions. And it brings you closer to slumber itself as a bonus.

“Try it out. Put aside the quest for sleep and experience deep rest. A good place to start is to relax your face: jaw, eyes, and neck. Try it at night, and even take a rest-nap to help manage daily life. This is part of the Restful Insomnia program with a new approach to renewing at night when you can't sleep.”

Marta Neto

Gentle Sleep Consultant

www.gentlesleepconsultant.co.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/gentlesleepconsultant

  • Nap when you can or at least rest your body and mind.
  • Lower your standards, be kind to yourself.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • Avoid using sugary drinks and snacks as a way to stay awake.
  • Do gentle exercise to release endorphins, the lovely feel good hormones.

Mandy Gurney

Millpond Sleep Clinic

http://millpondsleepclinic.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MillpondSleepClinicGlobal

“Are you too wired to sleep when your baby sleeps?

If you are lying down with your eyes closed you may well be asleep without realising it. Numerous sleep studies have shown that subjects awakened from the first stage of sleep often denied having slept at all. A nap of very light first stage sleep will probably make you feel less tired and even three minutes of deeper sleep can have recuperative effects. Ignore criticism from other people. Keep focused on what you are doing. You might be doing everything you can to get more sleep, and still your baby sleeps less than average.

Keep your baby nearby for night feeds.

If you are breastfeeding, you are likely to get more sleep if you keep your baby nearby; a bedside cot is a safe way of doing this.

Don’t change your baby’s nappies at night.

If your baby is asleep, don’t worry about a nappy change, babies don’t notice a wet nappy.

Setting your baby’s body clock.

Let your baby get sunlight during the day and avoid artificial lighting at night. Make sure you and your baby go out each day; afternoon light has been shown to help to establish young babies’ body clocks and will help you to sleep better too.

Ask your family and friends.

Let friends or family watch your baby while you take a nap. Now is the time to get help where you can.

Keeping your energy levels up.

Remember to eat. It’s important to keep up your energy levels. Having small amounts of protein with every meal and as snacks will keep your blood sugars more constant. Try to avoid sugary foods as they might give you a boost at that the time, but your blood sugar levels will drop much quicker.

The good news is that by 12 weeks things will improve. Newborns have special sleep patterns and special needs, but things will start to get better at around 12 weeks postpartum.”

Maryanne Taylor

The Sleep Works

http://thesleepworks.co.uk/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thesleepworks

Twitter: @TheSleepWorks

  • “Establish when you feel most sleepy during the day and pre-empt it by getting up to move around, going for a walk, eating a healthy snack, and having a non-caffeinated drink.
  • Keep hydrated throughout the day, tapering off liquids early evening.
  • Ensure you are eating a healthy diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the day. Try to avoid sugary snacks which can increase sleepiness.
  • Incorporate daily short pauses into your day to relieve the build-up of mental and physical tiredness.
  • If necessary, have a short catnap during the day for 20-30 minutes, no later than 2pm. This will improve alertness and performance without interfering with night sleep.”

Lucy Shrimpton

The Sleep Nanny

www.sleepnanny.co.uk

Book: https://sleepnanny.samcart.com/products/the-sleep-nanny-system---ebook/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/childsleepcoach

For parents who are suffering as a result of their little ones not sleeping:

  • Catch up on sleep when you can and make this a priority in the short term - other tasks can wait.
  • Limit your own screen time in the evening. The blue light will suppress your melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels and make it harder to get to sleep.
  • The first phase of sleep is your deepest and most restorative sleep. Make it a priority to get this by going to bed early. Your child will be most likely to take a longer stretch of sleep at the beginning of the night too, so this is a great chance for you to fill up your 'sleep tank'.
  • While you may still be awake, resting will also help you to cope with sleep deprivation, so take some time to slow down and relax when you can.
  • Mindset can make the world of difference. What you constantly think ('I'm so tired'), is what you tell your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind will believe you and this will perpetuate the feeling of tiredness. Accepting that you are tired but you are coping and that you will get through this will be a more positive mindset that will help you to feel more energised.
  • Some exercise every day may seem impossible when you're already shattered, but it will actually increase your energy levels. Just remember to balance this with some rest too!
  • Make healthy food choices. When we are tired we reach for the unhealthy options that might give a quick boost but do not have lasting effects on our energy and will, in fact, cause more fatigue. Don't keep anything like this in the house because your will-power will be compromised when you're sleep deprived.
  • Don't suffer unnecessarily. The chances are, your child could be sleeping a lot better. So seek some professional advice and guidance to help them sleep as best they can.

Sam Yassin

Back 2 Fitness

https://back2fitness.co/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Back2FitnessSYPC

Twitter: @B2F_SYPC

Instagram: @sypc_fitness 

“Tip 1 – Detach yourself from all electronic devices before going to bed. Falling asleep while the TV is playing in the background will only disrupt your sleep and prevent you from falling into a deeper sleep. Instead, swap TV for an interesting book and allow your brain to become naturally tired.

Tip 2 – If you’re having trouble sleeping, try ZMa (Zinc Magnesium), as this will help to improve the quality of your sleep and allow you to naturally fall into a deep sleep. Carbs before bed are also a great idea, as they will help to tire you out without having to put in a lot of effort.

Tip 3 - Lots of us nowadays turn to a quick power nap, to stave off the tiredness caused by a poor night’s sleep. The best way to combat this if you do need to replenish your energy is a short and sharp power nap of 20 minutes or so. If you’re getting an extra two to three hours a day, then your next sleep cycle will be impacted and you’ll find yourself in a vicious circle of relying upon naps to supplement your interrupted sleep.”

Martin Reed

Insomnia Land

http://www.insomnialand.com/

Twitter: @insomnialand

“When suffering from sleep deprivation it can be very tempting to go to bed earlier in an attempt to make up for lost sleep. However, spending too much time in bed can actually make sleep problems worse! Aim to spend no more than one hour in addition to your average nightly sleep duration in bed.

As an example, if you tend to average about five hours of sleep, you shouldn’t be spending more than six hours in bed at night. Reducing the amount of time you allot for sleep in this way won’t reduce your total sleep time. It will, however, increase sleep efficiency, strengthen the sleep system, and improve sleep.”

Joseph Gannon

Sleep Disorders Clinic

http://www.thesleepdisordersclinic.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thesleepdisordersclinic

Twitter: @SleepClinic_UK

The best way to overcome the symptoms is to get rid of the cause. The most common cause is behavioural, the second most common is medical. Below are tips to get through;

  • Have a regular bedtime and wake time, even at weekends. If you are tired and need to catch up, it’s best to go to bed earlier as opposed to staying in bed longer.
  • Caffeine: it comes in many forms and, if consuming it, it’s best not to have any after 2pm and you should limit the amount you have. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours. This means that, if the cup of coffee you drink at 6pm has between 95-200mg of caffeine in it, at midnight there will still be 47.5-100mg of caffeine stimulating you, keeping you awake and fragmenting the sleep you do have.
  • Naps: if you can avoid them, do. It’s best to consolidate sleep at night. If you absolutely need to nap, keep it under 45 minutes. Sleep is similar to one’s appetite for food, eating too much before your main meal will reduce your appetite. The same applies for sleep.
  • If you want to stay awake, stay in cool, brightly lit rooms and keep your mind stimulated. However, at least an hour before bed stay away from bright lights and screens. The body’s natural sleep inducing hormone melatonin is reduced when bright light enters the eyes. When it is dark the body will produce more melatonin to promote sleep.

If sleeping remains a problem after you have adapted your behaviours, then it is best then to seek professional help.

Royal College of Psychiatrists

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RCPsych/

Twitter: @rcpsych

Here are some simple tips that many people find helpful:

Do's

  • Make sure that your bed and bedroom are comfortable - not too hot, not too cold, not too noisy.
  • Make sure that your mattress supports you properly. If it's too firm, your hips and shoulders are under pressure. If it's too soft, your body sags which is bad for your back. Generally, you should replace your mattress every ten years to get the best support and comfort.
  • Get some exercise. Don't overdo it, but try some regular swimming or walking. The best time to exercise is in the daytime - particularly late afternoon or early evening. Later than this can disturb your sleep.
  • Take some time to relax properly before going to bed. Some people find aromatherapy helpful.
  • If something is troubling you and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down before going to bed and then tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow.
  • If you can't sleep, get up and do something relaxing. Read, watch television or listen to quiet music. After a while, you should feel tired enough to go to bed again.

Don'ts

  • Don't go without sleep for a long time. Go to bed when you feel tired and stick to a routine of getting up at the same time every day, whether you still feel tired or not.
  • Caffeine hangs around in your body for many hours after your last drink of tea or coffee. There are now many fizzy drinks, and even mints, that contain a lot of caffeine. Stop drinking tea or coffee by mid-afternoon. If you want a hot drink in the evening, try something milky or herbal (but check there's no caffeine in it).
  • Don't drink a lot of alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but you will almost certainly wake up during the night.
  • Don't eat or drink a lot late at night. Try to have your supper early in the evening rather than late.
  • If you've had a bad night, don't sleep in the next day - it will make it harder to get off to sleep the following night.
  • Don't use slimming pills - many of these will keep you awake.
  • Don't use street drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines - they are stimulants, and like caffeine, will tend to keep you awake.

 

 

How to repay your sleep debt

As we’ve found out, it’s essential to repay your sleep debt in order to maintain a healthy body and mind. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks to help you do so. We’ve compiled a list of the best ways in which you can start to pay back your sleep debt.

Start a bedtime routine

Engaging in the same, peaceful activity every night before you hit the hay can be endlessly beneficial for your sleep cycle because doing the same thing each night before bed signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.

Try reading, as this helps to tire your brain naturally. Activities like stretching and yoga can also help, as they relieve the stress and tensions that have built up in your body throughout the day. 

Stop clock watching

If you can, keep all the clocks in your bedroom out of sight. Looking at the time can cause you to feel stressed if you’re not falling asleep as quickly as you’d like to, making it even more difficult to fall asleep in the long run. 

Create a better sleep environment

Your bedroom should be a quiet sanctuary to which you can retreat when you need rest and it should be cool, dark, and quiet. When you’re falling asleep, your body temperature drops slightly, so ensuring that your room is at a cool temperature aids the process of falling asleep.

Try to avoid having electronics like televisions, computers, and phones in the bedroom. Falling asleep with the television on can prevent you from reaching a stage of deep sleep, which is essential for your brain to reach its full cognitive potential. The same goes for having mobile phones in the bedroom; light up screens have the potential to interrupt the stages of deep sleep. 

Be mindful of what you eat and drink

What you put into your body can seriously affect how well you sleep. You should stay away from stimulants after 2pm; even if you don’t feel wired in the evening, stimulants such as caffeine affect the depth of your sleep hours after they’ve been consumed.

Similarly, you should avoid eating large and heavy meals close to bedtime. If you have to eat before you go to bed, aim to have a light snack, such as nuts, fruit, or cereal. 

Stick to a schedule

If you aim to go to bed and wake up at a similar time every day (particularly on a work or school night where you have to wake up early), it will be easier to fall into a regular sleep schedule.

Of course, it is tempting to have a lie in on the weekends but, as much as this can help to repay some short-term sleep debt, it can lead to long-term sleep problems as your schedule will fall out of sync. If you must sleep in on the weekend, try to limit it to only an hour or so of extra sleep so that it doesn’t affect your sleep schedule too much during the main bulk of the week.

Try to avoid naps

Napping, although tempting, is likely to be detrimental to your sleep cycle overall. It does help to nap when paying back some short-term sleep debt, but they can create longer-term sleep debt by making it more difficult for you to fall asleep in the evening. If you feel as though you absolutely must nap, you should do so in the late morning or early afternoon - no later than 2pm - and you should try to limit them to about 30 minutes long. 

To Summarise:

Sleep deprivation and an accumulation of sleep debt can seriously affect your ability to carry out daily tasks and engage with your life as you’d like to, but hopefully, our article and the advice from our ten experts has given you enough information to be able to cope with the symptoms.

As we’ve seen, there are many things that you can do to tackle the symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as engaging in light exercise and eating well to keep your energy levels up. However, it is crucial that you begin to repay your sleep debt as soon as you possibly can, in order to prevent significant health issues.

If you feel as though your sleep deprivation is becoming unmanageable, you should talk to your GP, or seek help from professionals at charities like Sleep Foundation and Mind.

Caffeine is a major culprit when it comes to sleep deprivation and, if you think you’ve got a problem, read our infographic on how to beat your caffeine addiction.

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