The good news? The days are getting warmer and longer. The bad news? With the upcoming shift to Daylight Savings Time (March 13), we’ll pay the “spring ahead” surcharge of one less hour. If you’re like most of us, that hour will be sacrificed from your sleep. Meanwhile, students are beginning to crunch for exams; presidential debates (again!) run late into the night, and then there’s the prepping for tax season. There are a million reasons why we’re probably skimping on our sleep.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control gives a wake-up call, finding that 37.1% of U.S. adults reported regularly sleeping less than 7 hours per night. The upshot is that we’re living in a constant state of sleep debt. And debt isn’t good on the financial front, or the health front.
Of course there are nights and perhaps even weeks when our deadlines or work schedules or House of Cards addiction keeps us from going to bed early enough to catch the recommended seven to eight hours. So can we cheat a little and catch up on the sleep we’ve lost?
The answer depends on what kind of sleep deprivation we’re talking about: acute or chronic.
If you’re experiencing a random one or two nights of less than seven hours of shut eye (what’s considered acute level), you can play catch up, but it’s best to do it incrementally. So, for example, to compensate for the lost hour at Daylight Savings, don’t necessarily log all your missed sleep the next day, but instead log an extra hour or two over the next few nights.
For chronic sleep deprivation, however (multiple days of less than 5 hours of sleep a night), well, that’s another story. Recovery sleep (sleeping for an extended period of time after being sleep deprived) will help you feel better and even lower cortisol levels, however your mental and physical abilities will still be suffering from inadequate sleep. Plus, sleeping in and catching-up on sleep can impact your future ability to sleep, playing ugly tricks on your circadian rhythm.
So here are some tips for staying out of sleep debt:
- Stay ahead of the curve– Prevent sleep loss in the first place by turning off screens early, practice yoga or stretching or some stress-reducing physical practice, and do something relaxing just before bedtime. Creating and maintaining a bedtime routine will help signal the body that it’s time to sleep.
- Set your alarm – If you do have to play catch-up, plan to go to bed earlier but still wake up at your usual time. Again, routine is good!
- Take a snooze– Naps are your friend (whether sleep deprived or not!). If possible, take a short 20-minute nap in the late morning or early afternoon. But keep it short and sweet so you can get to sleep ON TIME that night.