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Don’t let that sleep debt pile up

When things get hectic, the first thing to suffer is sleep. Often, mealtimes suffer too, but we have to eat eventually, because hunger is not something you can ignore.

mumbai Updated: Aug 28, 2011 00:50 IST
Dr PP Prabhudesai

When things get hectic, the first thing to suffer is sleep. Often, mealtimes suffer too, but we have to eat eventually, because hunger is not something you can ignore.

With sleep, you make do. And that is often a very harmful thing.

Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but most adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep in order to function effectively.

Sleep too little, and you begin to wake up feeling tired, and spend the day feeling lethargic. You may think you have saved an hour by sleeping less — an hour that you can spend catching up with your to-do list, preparing for meeting or going to a new club in town, but you’re probably performing under par if you have not slept enough, and that means you are actually costing yourself time.

Sufficient sleep ensures good cognitive functions, sharper memory, quicker calculations and crisper judgments. Lack of sleep results in the exact opposite. Too little sleep will, over time, trigger varying degrees of fatigue, crankiness and irritability. Over a longer period, it can increase anxiety and lead to a depressive mindset.

The bottom line is, however busy you are, sleep is not something you should compromise on if you hope to stay healthy and fit.

The effects may not be visible immediately, but they are there. Studies indicate that people

who sleep seven hours a night live longer. Insufficient sleep has been shown to worsen conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and bronchitis.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It is during your sleep hours that your body repairs, through metabolic and hormonal action, the wear and tear that occurs through the day. Interrupt or shorten the repair period and you have a body that is wearing itself out.

One way to prevent this is to think of lack of sleep as sleep debt.

The hours that you should have been asleep are hours you owe your body. If you cannot afford seven straight hours of sleep, use power naps to repay that debt.

People make the mistake of thinking they can repay their sleep debt over the weekend. You can’t. The body is not built to cash in on umpteen hours of rest once or twice a week. You will, at best, get a restless longer-than-normal rest that will help somewhat, but the sleep debt will remain.

So try power naps. Prioritise. At the very least, get 40 winks in your car or on the train. It will help. You will at least begin to feel better.

But the hard truth is, there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. And a good night has to last at least seven hours.

(The author is a specialist in sleep-related breathing disorders at Lilavati hospital.)