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How to get out of the sleep-debt trap!

by Richard Cawte


Are you getting enough sleep?

In this article Richard Cawte gives you some useful tips on how to stay at the top of your game. 

Today’s world is fast-paced. New challenges are brought to us with ever-increasing speed. How we respond to those challenges depends not only on how qualified or experienced we are, but also on how fit and healthy we are. How fit and healthy we are is attributable to many things, but the single most important factor is this: are you getting enough rest?

Most of us value sleep at a pretty low premium. We justify losing an hour here or two hours there because we’re too busy. We have to work late, there’s a plane to catch, or whatever other excuse springs to mind. That is where we go wrong. Start by getting a good night’s rest and everything else falls into place. After all, if you are tired you will be much less likely to go the gym or take a walk. Not only that, you’ll also be more likely to reach for fast-foods, caffeine or sugary drinks in an attempt to give yourself a (false) boost and that’s not going to help.

Before we answer some of the most common questions regarding sleep, let’s just clarify what it is. That may sound very simple, but few people are aware that sleep is not a time when your brain simply switches off. It’s a time when your brain runs through a whole series of essential tasks. If you don’t allow it to complete these tasks, the result will be much the same as if you never defrag or delete temporary files on your computer: you’ll slow down progressively until you seize up!

Sleep is not an optional extra. It’s an essential maintenance for your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

So how much sleep do I need?

It’s a fact that over half of us are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and are unaware of it.

Some people say they can manage on very little sleep, but by and large the old-wives tale that “you should get eight hours sleep every night” is about right if you are looking to operate at maximum capacity. Yet it is not really the amount of sleep that you are getting that matters as much as the quality of that sleep. It is quite possible to have too much sleep, in which case you will wake just as befuddled and unrefreshed as if you had too little.

How do I know when I have not had enough sleep? 


If you are not getting good rest you will find it harder to concentrate on any task, you will hesitate more and be less decisive. You may find yourself yawning in a business meeting, craving sugary foods (or a boost of some kind) or nodding off if the room is warm.

On top of that your brain will operate more slowly than usual, you’ll be less patient and your sense of humour may well have been left on the pillow. You’ll need to cat nap during the day and you’ll find yourself nodding off on the train on the way home, or in front of the television when you get back.

If allowed to continue, sleep deprivation has a wide range of negative effects that go way beyond daytime drowsiness. It affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction times not to mention your libido. It can affect you just as much as being drunk.

The effects include:

  • Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Reduced immunity; frequent colds and infections
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems

 Get Yourself Out of Debt

If you fail to get the rest your body and brain require, you will be putting yourself into debt just as surely as you are when you take out a loan from a bank. The difference is that whereas you can repay your financial debts from future profits there is no way to pay off your sleep-debt except by getting more sleep! To test whether you are out of credit, go to bed half an hour earlier than you normally would. If you fall asleep easily, you are in debt. Repeat this process until you have caught up.

Can I catch up at weekends? 

No. Sleeping for longer at weekends will help you to pay off some of the balance of your sleep-debt, but it will also encourage you to get out of your routine. You are better off getting a little extra sleep each day, rather than trying to catch up with a big chunk on Saturdays and Sundays.

Simple Tips and Tactics: 

  1. The most important thing is to get into a routine. Go to bed and get up at regular times as often as you can. If you can’t do this, see the solution below on choosing how much sleep you get.
  2. Don’t watch television for at least an hour before you go to bed. It’s a myth that television relaxes you. In fact, it does the opposite, stimulating adrenalin flow and agitating the brain. Switch it off. And if you have one in your bedroom – take it out!
  3. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke just before bed. As with television, drinking alcohol or smoking right before bed time will not relax you.
  4. Cat napping really does help. Many world leaders have relied on it. Make sure each catnap is a maximum of twenty minutes. Longer than that and you will enter deeper sleep, from which you won’t wake refreshed.
  5. Get enough physical exercise during any one day to leave your body feeling tired.


See also: How much sleep is enough? 



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