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Can you ‘pay off’ sleep debt?

10th January 2024 • 4 min read
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Here’s how to bring your sleep account back into balance.

Most of us have pulled an all-nighter (or close to it) at some point in our lives. Whether we’re burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline, partying ‘til dawn or trying to soothe a wailing infant, the results are always the same. In the days that follow, we try desperately to push through the grogginess and fatigue.

Sleep debt is a silent but powerful creditor. Here, we look at how it accumulates, and what you can do to settle the score and avoid future overdrafts.

What is sleep debt?

Despite the name, sleep debt is not some mysterious financial concept. Also known as sleep deficit, experts define it as “the difference between the amount of sleep someone needs and the amount they actually get”. You don’t need a sleep debt calculator to work it out – if you slept for five hours but usually need around eight, you’ve accumulated three hours of sleep debt.

It might not sound like much, but sleep debt can start to add up – especially if you make a habit out of things like working, socialising or binge-watching your favourite TV series late into the night. Some people are also more prone to accumulating sleep debt, including teenagers, shift workers and anyone else with an irregular sleep schedule.

But anyone can wake up to a deficit in their sleep account. In fact, estimates suggest close to 40 per cent of Australian adults experience some type of inadequate sleep

Why avoid accumulating sleep debt?

Missing a couple of hours every now and then won’t break the bank, but the consequences of ongoing sleep deficit go beyond just feeling tired. 

Chronic sleep debt can lead to issues such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering information

  • Trouble regulating emotions

  • Increased risk of health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure

  • Lower immune system function, making you more susceptible to illnesses

On the flipside, consistent sleep can support cognitive functioning, emotional wellbeing and immunity, while reducing your risk of various health problems – all good reasons for topping up the slumber balance each night!

Can you 'pay off' sleep debt?

While it's tempting to think you can catch up on lost sleep, the reality is not that straightforward. In one study, it took four days for participants to recover from one hour of potential sleep debt. Taking long naps or sleeping in on weekends might make you feel better after a big night out, but it definitely isn’t ideal.

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Struggling with your sleep?

Avoid sleep debt with healthy routines

Rather than constantly trying to play catch-up on sleep, why not do your brain and body a favour and establish a healthy sleep routine? Some simple changes can help you get to bed earlier and ensure you’re firing on all cylinders.

In order to improve your sleep, start by making it a priority. If you think of it as a non-negotiable and give it the same level of importance as you would showering, exercising and eating every day, things should start to fall into place. 

Establishing a regular sleep schedule is also beneficial. If possible, aim for the same sleep and wake-up time every day, even on weekends. This will help regulate your internal clock and your body will start to recognise when it’s time to sleep. 

Always allow enough time for the recommended hours of sleep. The Australian Sleep Health Foundation generally recommends 9-11 hours for school-age children, 8-10 for teens, and 7-9 hours for adults aged 18-64.

To help you doze off quicker, avoid potential disruptors before bed, such as alcoholic or caffeinated drinks and electronic devices. Your sleeping environment can also have a big impact, so try to keep your room as dark and quiet as possible, and ensure your mattress and pillow are suited to your needs. 

Even if you're doing everything right, the bottom line is that sleep debt can start to add up if you're spending night after night sleeping on the wrong mattress. Having the right level of support during the night is essential to avoid sleep debt, and everyone's support needs are different. Some people do best with a firm mattress, while others prefer a plush, luxurious feel. Whatever is right for you, you can bank on Forty Winks to have great options. Not sure where to start? Our exclusive bedMATCH® system makes finding the right mattress super simple. And you won’t need to smash your piggy bank to start cutting down your sleep debt. Our Sleep Specialists can help you find bedroom solutions to match your sleeping preferences and budget.

Explore our range online, or visit us instore to get bedMATCHED, and ensure you can enjoy better sleep.

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