It’s not always easy to get the seven to nine hours of sleep physicians recommend for health and wellness. Not with your hectic work and family schedule, not with all of the extra time-stealers that pop up, and certainly not with all the things you have to worry about.
So you wake up extra early to get a jump start. Stay up late to catch up. Before you know it, you’re in sleep debt. And if you don’t pay up, yawing at inopportune times could be the least of your worries.
Sleep debt is the term used to explain what happens when you consistently get less sleep than you need, resulting in a rest deficit. Every hour of sleep that you lose, you become more in debt, explains Dr. Sonya Merrill, medical director of the Sleep Medicine Institute at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Longer term sleep deprivation can increase the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and it also increases the effects of aging and memory loss.
“Unfortunately, sleep debt does not just go away,” she says. “It must be ‘repaid’ by obtaining extra sleep over and above the usual daily requirement.”
The effects of sleep debt
Physicians call the need for more sleep a part of “self care.” When you take better care of yourself, everything else — work, family, friends, recreation, etc. — benefit as well.
“There is a tendency for us to forget that sleep is essential to human life and health, just as much as food and water,” Merrill says. “If we take time to eat and drink during the day, we should also take time to get an adequate amount of sleep.”
Sleep loss comes with short- and long-term consequences because you’re shortchanging the time your body gets to rebuild, recharge and regulate. For example, a lack of sleep hinders your decision-making abilities, blocks concentration and can cause anxiety.
Longer term sleep deprivation can increase the risk of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and immune deficiencies, and it also increases the effects of aging and memory loss.
Sleep debt is common with the majority of women, but it’s a phenomenon that needs to be addressed. “While we’re all busy with job and family responsibilities, typically we do have ‘discretionary’ time during the day which we spend doing things we enjoy: watching television, ‘playing’ on the computer, snacking, talking on the phone or texting friends,” Merrill says.
“If we make time to do those things that are not essential to our life and health, we need to make time to sleep.”
Learn more about managing sleep debt by attending the Advances in Medicine lecture series, presented by Texas Health Resources in partnership with Laura W. Bush Institute for Health. Upcoming lectures are scheduled for October 15 at Texas Health Plano, October 16 at Texas Health Dallas and October 24 in Allen.
Lectures are complimentary with limited space. Reservations are required and can be made online or by calling 877-847-9355.
Note: Doctors are not employees/agents of the hospital.