There’s a popular idea that if we don’t sleep well during the week (because of jobs, because of family, because we just don’t want to) that we can always just make it up on the weekends. It turns out that not only is this idea not true, it can actually be harmful to the way we live our lives. It’s new knowledge gleaned from a part of the new burgeoning field known as “sleep science” and it’s changing the way we look at sleep and health. Here’s how sleep scientist, Matthew Walker explained it on a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air,
“Sleep is not like the bank. You can’t accumulate a debt and pay it off at a later point in time,” Walker says. “If I were to deprive you of sleep an entire night, and then in a subsequent night give you all the sleep you want, you never get back all that you’ve lost. You will sleep longer, but you will never achieve that full eight-hour repayment. The brain has no capacity to get back that lost sleep…”
Paying Back Sleep Debt
So what do you do if you’re feeling sleep deprived? There’s a couple different answers to that question, but the short one is exactly what you’d think it would be: get your best sleep more often.
It’s been scientifically proven that to make up for a significant sleep debt, you’ll have to sleep between ten and eight hours a night for many months to pay back those hours lost to work and play. Not only that, you’ll have to keep up your eight hours of sleep a night if you don’t want to incur more sleep debts (and their related health problems).
A better option is to never incur the sleep debt in the first place. Try and get your best sleep every night by scheduling that time into your day (or night). Don’t bring phones into the bedroom, and leave your work at home. Work can often take precedence over a good night’s sleep, to the detriment of both your work and your health.
Your Sleep is as Important as Your Job (and Will Help You Do Perform)
It was popular wisdom for much of the last century that “sleep is for the weak.” People often thought of sleep as an indulgence that could be offset by cold water, caffeine, and not sitting down for too long. This is false. A well rested employee is a better employee, and even if you’re putting in fewer hours at your job, the hours that you put in will be of a higher quality. That leads to better decision making, and ultimately a better business. It’s not just sleep scientists who feel this way, industry experts like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Sheryl Sandberg all make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep a night to help with their decision making.
So make sure you take the time to get that sleep before you incur a sleep debt. It’s always easier to start out with a healthy base than to have to dig yourself out of a hole. Plus, sleep has been proven to have all sorts of tangential health benefits, but it only works when you take the time to get your best sleep every night.
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