Many of us are probably guilty of implementing the age-old weekend practice of “catching-up” on sleep. But does this strategy really benefit our body and mind? The truth is playing catch-up doesn’t cut it. While the amount of required sleep varies from person to person, sleep experts and organizations such as the National Institutes of Health agree most of us need between 7 and 9 hours of nightly shut-eye.
Are We Getting Enough Sleep?
Unfortunately, a substantial number of Americans aren’t getting nearly this much sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 30 percent of adults receive no more than 6 hours of sleep per night. Further, a survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of adults aged 25-55 fail to get sufficient sleep on weeknights.
For many of us, this sleep debt creates what is known as “social jet lag.” This phenomenon occurs when life’s demands limit sleep to the degree that mimics the tired and disorienting effects of long-distance travel. So, many who encounter social jet lag resort to playing catch-up.
This strategy, however, is futile. Studies show sleep debt can accumulate for extended periods and it can take more than 20 nights of zzz’s just to break even. A single weekend of extended sleep is highly unlikely to rescue you from accumulated sleeplessness.
Tips to Break the Cycle
While you can’t overhaul your sleep habits in a single night or week, you can start making some small, incremental changes to help you sleep on a better schedule.
- Gradually increase your overall sleep time. Start by sleeping 15 minutes longer each night, then eventually move to 30 or 60 additional minutes if you can.
- Follow a nightly routine. A relaxing evening routine repeated nightly can help protect your bedtime, eliminating daily concerns.
- Treat weeknights and weekends alike. Consistency is important to sleep. Set up a regular, sustainable sleep schedule and avoid both very early and very late nights throughout the week and on the weekends.
Chronic insufficient sleep not only diminishes your daytime functions, it can also lead to health problems and dangerous behavior like drowsy driving. If you suffer from too little sleep, these three tips will get you on the path to improving your sleep habits in no time.