I’ll say that again in case your attention wandered…

Hopefully you’re not having a problem staying alert at the moment, but if you do find yourself struggling to keep focused during a meeting because you’re trying to stop your eyes closing, or you get home and promptly fall sleep in front of the TV, you’re probably sleep deprived or in sleep debt.

We’re not talking about a one-off occasion when you get up next morning after a heavy night on the tiles, but about a lifestyle where feeling dog tired even after a night’s sleep is becoming, or has already become, the norm. Perhaps you used to wake easily when the alarm sounded, but now you just long for another hour or two in bed.

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It’s not just a case of feeling tired

It’s not just a feeling of fatigue you’re experiencing. You may also be aware of a reduced conversation. You might also be slower to react when driving or perhaps you find it difficult to concentrate on the task in hand. Here are five crucial steps for a sleep debt recovery.

STEP 1: Catch up on lost sleep as soon as possible

If a person goes without sleep for just one night and tries to make up for the lost sleep by getting extra hours in bed during the following night or two, they are likely to be able to fully regain their normal mental functioning.

The brain has a mechanism to help you recover.

According to research published several years ago in the Journal of Sleep: “The brain has a built-in reflex that helps you sleep deeper and longer when you’re sleep deprived,” says study co-author David Dinges, Chief of the Division of Sleep & Chronobiology at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine.

“This recovery sleep seems to have a genuine benefit to restoring alertness.”

It’s not only your mental state that sleep loss affects.

Putting in those extra sleep hours doesn’t immediately restore all systems. The nervous system and your metabolic activity take much longer to recover.

STEP 2: Avoid serious health risks arising from sleep loss

Unfortunately long and/or irregular working hours are increasingly common place for many people these days. When people habitually lose sleep, various studies have connected chronic partial sleep deprivation not just to mental impairment but also to changes in hormone secretion, metabolism, weight gain, delayed immune response and other problems.

sleep debt recovery_2

STEP 3: An extra hour of sleep each night could reduce your risk of catching colds

In the US researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University found that those who got less than seven hours of sleep a night were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold after being exposed to cold viruses, than those who got eight hours or more.

STEP 4: Avoid possible weight gain resulting from reduced sleep time

Other research has shown that reduced sleep time can affect hormonal activity leading to an increased appetite. Loss of sleep seems to be equated with hunger. The long term effects of sleep deficit, if not brought under control, could lead to heart disease and diabetes.

STEP 5: Take prolonged sleep debt very seriously or you might not fully recover

There have been some extreme cases recorded where individuals have deliberately set out to set records to stay awake as long as possible, amounting to several days. While their general recovery occurred there were reports in some cases of permanent changes in their temperament with disastrous implications for their domestic and work situations.

Treat sleep deficit like a bank account and if you are overdrawn, pay back what you owe as quickly as you possibly can. Remember that your health and wellbeing are dependent on your ability to effectively manage your sleep account.

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