For an adult the recommended amount of sleep for our bodies to function effectively is 7-9 hours a night. Sleep debt is where there is a difference in the amount of sleep we should be getting versus the amount of sleep we are actually getting.
Short term sleep debt can result in a lack of concentration, irritability and poor judgement, affecting our ability to learn and complete tasks, and increasing the likelihood of accidents or errors to occur.
As sleep is restorative, longer term a chronic lack of sleep can contribute to health problems including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. You may also be more susceptible to experiencing anxiety and depression.
If you have had a late night or are feeling tired a nap may help during the day, reducing fatigue, increasing alertness, improving your mood, performance and reaction time. A nap may also help you prepare for and be able to better cope with a late night out, shift work or a long drive.
Ideally a nap should only be 15-30 minutes long. This will ensure that when you wake you are still in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep. Any longer, where you enter the deeper stages of sleep you risk waking up with what is known as sleep inertia. Feeling groggy and perhaps more tired and with less energy than before your nap.
Many of us enjoy a weekend sleep in, catching up on sleep lost during the week. Whilst it may seem a good idea and make you feel less tired, if you are sleeping in do not sleep for more than 2 hours longer than normal. Sleeping late into the morning can further disrupt your sleep patterns by making you feel less sleepy when you should be going to bed at night.
Sleeping in or taking naps may make us feel less tired in the short term but they are not a solution for long term chronic sleep debt and the potential long-term effects on your health.
Avoiding sleep debt, and providing your body with the sleep it needs requires a regular sleep routine and good sleep hygiene habits.
It may take time to get into a routine but by following good sleep hygiene and a regular sleep routine you will regain the energy you have been lacking and it will benefit your long term health and wellbeing.