By: Shari Chase

According to Sleep Advisor’s Sleep Statistics and Trends for 2020, the world might have a huge problem. Sleep. In fact, they went as far as to say that “global sleep problems might be causing more damage than terrorism,” and I think they might have a point. See, my daughter is a bad sleeper.

Actually, she is a terrible sleeper, and in the first two years of her life, I barely got any sleep. As a person who requires at least eight hours of sleep a night, I was a walking zombie, and I know without a doubt that sleep deprivation is no joke. 

Why Is Sleep So Important Anyway?

Netflix’s show Awake: The Million Dollar Game Show revolves around several contestants attempting to complete various tasks as they stay awake for 24 hours. The participants are seen to suffer from sleep deprivation-induced delirium, providing fantastic entertainment for viewers—I just wish it didn’t resonate so completely with me! Still, it all proves a point—humans need sleep, and without it, we tend to be pretty useless.

Scientists, although uncertain about some of the multi-faceted benefits of sleep, can all agree that a good night’s rest is vital to our overall health. Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep a night to feel refreshed. Shakespeare once said, quite correctly, that “Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer, and heals hurt minds Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.” 

From a more scientific perspective, sleep has quite a few specific benefits. It supports healthy brain function, gives our cells time to repair, boosts immunity, supports emotional regulation, maintains hormone releases, and gives us the ability to make decisions, focus and learn new things.

What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep deprivation can lead to sleep debt, defined as “the accumulated amount of sleep loss from insufficient sleep…that most often occurs when insufficient hours of sleep are obtained to meet your individual sleep needs.” This can happen as a result of not getting enough sleep, sleep disorders, or a lack of good quality sleep. Regardless of the cause, experts know sleep debt can have dangerous, even deadly, effects. 

At the very least, the deprivation of zzz’s can cause cosmetic issues like dark circles, puffy eyes, and a pasty complexion and the zombie look just doesn’t suit me.

Additionally, it can result in health concerns like a higher susceptibility to colds, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and strokes. Mentally, this debt can take another toll, leaving you emotionally imbalanced and unfocused with slow reaction times and overall sluggish brain function. In fact, it has been said to have the same effect as drinking too much alcohol and being mentally impaired. Although this might sound minor in theory, these kinds of disruptions can lead to many otherwise avoidable accidents and health complications. 

How Can I Do Better?

When you have a debt, it must be repaid. The same goes for sleep debt. The best way we can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation is to regard sleeping, not as a luxury, but as a necessity, and adopt healthier sleeping habits. Here are a few ways to reduce that debt:

Work on your short term debt first: If you pulled an all-nighter, went to bed way too late, or woke up way too early, take the time to fit in a couple extra hours of sleep to make up for it. That might mean taking a nap, going to bed earlier for a few nights, or sleeping in a little longer on the weekend.

Do your best to address long-term debts: Reducing a long term debt won’t happen with the snap of a finger, but there is still hope. You can prioritise sleep and do your best to meet your personal sleep quota. Experts suggest turning off your alarm clock and letting your body wake up naturally for a few days. This may be more possible now with many of us having to stay home due to the Coronavirus.

Don’t make the same mistake twice: When you are well-rested and have found a sleeping schedule that works best for you, whether 7, 8 or even 9 hours a night, do your best to continue to meet that need. Create a schedule, stick to it, and make sure you adhere to good sleep habits. 

Getting a good night’s sleep may not happen overnight, you may need to remodel your bedroom, change your caffeine habits, develop a more conducive bedtime routine, or rearrange your sleeping schedule. Best of luck developing and maintaining more healthy sleep habits. 

Goodnight and sweet dreams. I promise your body will thank you in the morning.