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energy sleep stress Accumulating A Sleep Debt You Can't Repay?

Research conducted by The Sleep Council (UK) in 2013 revealed 70% of Britons sleep for 7 hours or less per night, and the number of Britons getting just 5-6 hours per night has risen dramatically in the past 3 years to 33% with 27% experiencing poor quality sleep on a regular basis as well.  Sleeping well is as crucial to our health and wellbeing as eating a healthy diet or exercising regularly.

On average, we as Brit's go to bed at 11.15pm and get just six hours and 35 minutes sleep per night. The recommended daily amount of sleep is currently 8 hours for an adult, meaning we as a population accumulate 1 hour and 25 minutes sleep debt each night! Totalling 517 hours or 21.5 days worth of sleep debt per year!

This is concerning since getting a good night’s sleep is key to looking and feeling our best and can be the antidote to stress in our lives. Sleep literally has the ability to amplify our daily life experience for the better or worse. Which is why when we are sleep deprived our best friend can turn into our greatest enemy.  Just one bad night’s sleep affects our mood, concentration and alertness. While long-term sleep deprivation has far more serious consequences and has been linked to a number of serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

To figure out your sleep debt, the answer is mathematical: Take the number of nightly hours of sleep you should be getting (8 hours for an adult), then subtract from it the amount of sleep you actually get. Keep records for 30 nights and then divide the total by 30 to give you your monthly average. Then times by 12 to calculate your yearly sleep debt. Ask yourself; does your sleep debt number give you the shivers? Or help you understand why the first few days of your vacation become devoted to comfy pajamas and your bed, while your body tries to repay the debt you have accumulated from your day-to-day life?

Sleep debt can be characterised by mental, emotional and physical fatigue, with problems arising in effectively performing day-to-day activities, which is why when you are sleep deprived you have diminished compassion for others as well as yourself. Reduced ability to keep perspective, meaning you tend to become sole focussed on your own needs above others. Your ability to make decisions is reduced and when you do make a decision you are more likely to make the wrong one. Plus your social control is also reduced and you may find it hard to decipher what is right or wrong.

I know when I am sleep deprived I am more likely to be reactive, irrational, emotionally unstable. Unfortunately, I don't make good decisions, I act in a very transactional manner and I struggle to connect to that creative and joyful side of myself. My sense of humour literally vanishes into thin air and my grumpy side comes out to wreak havoc on my life instead.

Aside from simply making you grumpier, sleep deprivation also causes an increased craving for foods that are high in sugar and carbs. This explains why people who have a rough night without a lot of sleep find themselves reaching for sweets that they might otherwise have skipped all together. Again, this usually leads to an increase in calories, and it’s another symptom of poor sleep that can eventually cause type 2 diabetes. The reason we have such strong cravings for sugary foods during times of sleep deprivation is because our brain receives less glucose than it normally would during normal sleep patterns. The available glucose in our body is being used by other body systems to help us function healthily thus our cognitive function suffers. These urges, coupled with our decreased will power often leads us to give into these urges and reach for the sweet stuff which only helps to further disrupt our energy levels and stress on the body.

Predictably, with 70% of Britons accumulating sleep debt each night it’s not surprising to see why the use of sleep medication has also risen. Although you may think that this has lead to healthier sleep patterns and more sleep for individuals using these medications, unfortunately the opposite has happened and we are only now beginning to understand that the length of time we spend asleep is not as important as the quality of the sleep we receive. Which is exactly why you can spend the recommended 8 hours asleep each night and still wake up feeling exhausted?

If you have been following my blog, you will know that your body is resilient and can withstand a few bad nights sleep every now and then. But if your sleep begins to consistently lead to sleep debt then you need to get a little sleep smart and learn how to improve your sleep hygiene. I suggest heading over to read my blog ‘How To Wake Up Feeling Energized. Every Day!’ to learn how to start finding ways to stop accumulating your sleep debt fast!

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