Alaska Sleep Education Center

Help with Sleep Debt

Posted by Richard L Woodard on Jan 20, 2021 1:24:00 AM

Young businessman sleeping with charts, graphs and reports on the background

If you are not getting enough sleep, you need to manage your sleep debt. This lesson gives suggestions on how to do this. Your need may be a general need or you may want to know how to deal with a specific problem such as jet lag, shift work, waking up and not getting back to sleep, or living with infants.

General Sleep Debt

  1. The first step is knowledge. It's important to know your:
  • Sleep needs - how much sleep you need per night.
  • Best times for action (natural alerting periods) and rest (natural dip in alertness).
  • Also, remember that drowsiness can become sleep in an instant and you don't want that to happen even for microseconds as it can cause accidents. 
  1. Keep your sleep debt as low as possible. If you know that you will be getting less sleep during exam time or when you travel, make sure you get as much sleep as possible before the event so your sleep debt will below.
  2. Plan what you will do to get enough sleep to function well during the event or recover after it. For instance, if you will be driving for a couple of days and you know you have a natural dip in alertness in the early afternoon, then plan to take a break and nap for 15 minutes during that time. Or if you have to work all night to study or meet a deadline, then plan on taking a day off to catch up on sleep or hire a babysitter to watch the kids while you sleep on the weekend. Don't make appointments during times of high sleep debt because your decisions will be impaired.
  3. Take naps. This is the best method for dealing with a sleep crisis. There is so much to say on the subject that I will cover it is napping.
  4. Monitor yourself constantly. Be aware when you start to feel drowsy and stop to get even 5 minutes of sleep, especially if you're driving. It's amazing what a difference even a very short nap can make to your level of alertness.

Shift Work

If we pay attention to our biological clock/circadian rhythm, we will sleep well and all the other activities of our lives will function more effectively. This makes life difficult for shift workers whose rhythms regularly get out of sync.

I'd like to pay tribute to the many workers who have to do shift work - the workmen who plow the snow from our roads in winter, the nurses who care for patients around the clock, policemen who patrol our streets, factory workers who supply us with goods, and so many more. Thanks for your efforts, especially when they play havoc with the regular rhythm of your lives.

Here are a (very) few suggestions for dealing with changes in shifts.

  • Try to have your shifts rotate in a clockwise fashion so a day shift is followed by an afternoon shift which is then followed by a night shift and finally back to a day shift. Also, have your shifts last at least 3 weeks to give yourself time to adapt to them. Suggest these things to your employer as studies have shown productivity will increase and absenteeism will decrease if they are followed.
  • Plan to hire a taxi to take you home so you won't be driving while drowsy.
  • Wear sunglasses to keep out light so you can sleep more readily when you get home.
  • Use blackout curtains in your bedroom. (These do more than keep out the light - they can insulate a room as well.) Or use a comfortable sleep mask to simulate the darkness of night.
  • Use earplugs to drown out the noise. If you find these uncomfortable, have 'white noise' like a fan running or a radio set to static in your room.Or, if you like, use an indoor water fountain or soothing music to help you sleep. Visit to shop for the best water features you can add to your home.
  • Make sure your family is aware of how important adequate sleep is for you and cooperates to let you have the time, space, and quiet you need.

Living with Infants

Getting enough sleep when you have young babies is very difficult.

  • The best advice is to nap when your child naps. Although you will want a long night's sleep, napping with your child will keep you going until your baby sleeps longer.
  • If the house looks a mess, either let it be messy and excuse it by knowing your health is more important or 
  • Hire someone to clean for you. Sometimes friends who offer to help will be willing to clean the kitchen and living room or get the laundry done. This sleepless phase won't last forever.
  • Take the baby out for a walk. This will give you a change of scenery and some exercise which will help you sleep better when you get the chance. Babies seem to enjoy it, too.

Trouble Getting to Sleep or Waking and Not Getting Back to Sleep

If trouble with sleep happens frequently, your best course of action is probably to visit a sleep clinic or sleep specialist. But if this is an occasional occurrence, there are some steps that might help. 

  1. Some experts say you should not lie awake in bed longer than 25 minutes because your mind should associate bed with sleep. They say you should get up and do something. This is helpful if you are awake because you're anxious because of something that needs to be done - like paying bills or preparing for the next day. Doing the ironing or preparing that speech or reading that report will settle your mind and allow you to sleep later.
  2. Other experts say you should stay in bed and rest. Resting is not as refreshing as sleep but it is better than being active. But don't fret while you lie awake. You cannot force yourself to sleep so think of something pleasant or try some of the relaxation exercises that can be done lying in bed.
  3. Experiment:
  • Try eliminating certain foods that you think might increase your sleeplessnesses - like coffee and chocolate - or eat them only before noon.
  • See if eating your evening meal earlier helps. Digestion from heavy meals may be interfering with good sleep. Some people say eating cheese before bedtime gives them nightmares and then they can't sleep for the rest of the night.
  • Alcohol is another culprit. Don't drink near bedtime
  • Try exercising at an earlier time.
  • If you nap, cut out your nap to see if you can sleep better at night.
  • Try wearing a sleep mask or darken your room.
  • Try earplugs or mask any noise with "white" noise - like a fan running - or play soft, soothing music.
  • Use an essential oil diffuser and diffuse a calming scent into the room, or simply put some lavender on a cotton ball in the room.
  • If you sleep with a partner, try sleeping alone. This is not practical for some people if there are no other beds available, but if you have an extra bed, try sleeping alone and see if it makes a difference. Your relationship with your partner may improve if you have refreshing sleep each night!
  • Try lots of different things until you find something that works for you.

Once you figure out how much sleep you need to feel well-rested during the day, think about what changes you need to make in your life to reach that goal. Would making dinner ahead of time with a slow cooker or ordering healthy takeout more often help you get to bed earlier? Would exercising in the morning instead of after work help you to wind down in the evenings? With a few small tweaks, you'll be back in business.

It might take time to adjust your lifestyle, but the payoff of attacking each day with the sleep you need is worth it.  If you feel like you cannot get the sleep health that you want and need, it may be time to talk to your doctor about sleep apnea.  Testing and treating sleep apnea not only improves your sleep, but it will improve your LIFE!

Insomnia Quiz

About the author: Richard L Woodard works as a writer for one of the services that you can ask to write my paper. He is fond of taking photos. In this case, Richard dreams of visiting as many countries as possible in order to take a lot of photos and take part in the exhibition to present his works to others.

Topics: insomnia, losing sleep, sleep debt

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