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Our Debt to Sleep: The Problem

“Half of us mismanage our sleep to the point it negatively affects our health and safety. On average, each of us sleeps one and a half fewer hours each night than our great-grandparents did a century ago.”

– William Dement, MD, founder and director of Stanford University Sleep Research Center. “The Promise of Sleep”. 1999: Dell Publishing

Sleep provides our bodies with nourishment, just as food does. And just like food, quality is just as, if not more important than quantity. It doesn’t matter how LONG your body is in bed if the quality of your sleep is poor. Expecting poor quality sleep to meet our sleep needs is the equivalent of expecting junk food to meet our body’s nutritional needs.

Our brains keep detailed records of the amount of sleep that they are owed.  Getting insufficient sleep means that your “bank account” is overdrawn – you owe your brain sleep. This “sleep debt” must be paid off hour for hour by getting a full night’s rest, or your body’s “collection agency” will begin to take over and snatch up your other “health assets”.

This “sleep debt”, or chronic sleep deprivation, affects millions of people in the United States. It has been found to hasten the onset of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, memory loss, cancer, and immune dysfunction. In addition to these, it also ages our metabolism prematurely and leads to body fat accumulation.

Think you have a sleep debt? Try answering the questions below:

Do you use or need an alarm clock to wake?

Are you usually in the middle of a dream when your alarm clock goes off?

Do you feel very tired while driving?

Do you need your morning coffee before you feel awake?

Do you often think that “a bit more sleep” would help you feel refreshed?

Are you moody, depressed, or irritable throughout the day?

Are you sensitive to cold?

Do you crave carbs and sugar?

Do you crave soda, tea, coffee, cigarettes, or stimulants to help you get through the day?

Do you use sleeping pills on a regular basis?

Do you sleep late on weekends?

Do you need one or more naps to get through your day?

Are you over 65?

Do you fall asleep listening to music or watching TV?

Do you usually snore?

Have you gained more than 5 pounds over the past year?

Do you smoke or are you exposed to second-hand smoke routinely?

Do you tire easily or have trouble breathing during exertion?

Do you consume a moderate amount of alcohol routinely? Do you occasionally drink to intoxication?

Do you chronic pain or muscle cramps?

Do you have high blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and/or homocysteine?

Have you been diagnosed with a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or insomnia)?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these statements, it is likely that you at least have a small sleep dept. If you answered “Yes” to most of these statements, your sleep account is considerably overdrawn. Check back soon to see the next blog entries in this series: How Sleep Affects Weight, Common Disrupters of Sleep, and How to Repay Your Sleep Debt!

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I am fascinated with the idea of “healthy sleep”. It is a few years now since being introduced to the idea of a link between my health challenges and sleep debt. I made a couple simple changes in my lifestyle such as turning off the tv by 8:30 and going to bed by 10 each night. Eventually I began waking naturally at dawn feeling refreshed and energized. I believe starting my day in this state had a positive ripple effect on my food choices and physical activity.

    Looking forward to learning more.

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