Sleep Debt and How to Pay It Off

Relatable Post # 6113

Relatable Post # 6113

I’ve often comforted myself with the idea of catching up on missed sleep after a late night, promising myself a long nap over the weekend. The question however, is whether it’s even possible to make up for lost sleep?

What is sleep debt?

In essence sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting per night (8 hours per night is the recommended standard) and the amount you’re actually getting. Writing for the Scientific American Molly Webster points to a 2005 survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation; which indicates that the average American sleeps about 6.9 hours per night – indicating that most US citizens lose about an hour of sleep each night and that figure adds up.

The effect of sleep debt on the body

Your brain is a finely tuned machine that runs on sleep so any sleep debt causes problems ranging from the annoying to the downright dangerous:

  • Decreased concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of brain tissue
  • Weight Gain
  • A lack of emotional intelligence
  • Increased irritability
  • Less self-regulation
  • Higher risk of stroke (with consistent sleep debt)
  • A compromised immune system

Take a look at this infographic by Alissa Scheller that I’ve posted before for more on the effects of sleep debt on the brain and body.

How long does it take to pay off a sleep debt?

Part of the problem with sleep debt is that the greater it becomes, the harder it is to recognize and it seems that most of us are at least slightly sleep deprived (according to the Harvard Medical School more than 60% of women get less than 7 hours of sleep per night).

According to Christopher M. Barnes’ article “Working in our sleep: Sleep and self-regulation in organizations” (published in the Organizational Psychology Review), the effects of low quality sleep or poor sleep accumulates over time. He quotes a study in which participants were restricted to sleeping five hours per night for 7 consecutive days – with the predictable increase in mental exhaustion, stress, tension and confusion ensuing. Where it gets interesting is that they found it took two nights of full sleep (8 hours) to recover back to the established baseline. In other words it took two nights of eight hours of sleep to make up for the shortfall of the previous week.

In short it is possible to ‘make up’ for those late nights but it takes time and in the interim all the gremlins of too little sleep come into play; effectively decreasing our faculties and thus our performance. Surely it makes more sense not to get into debt in the first place and, if debt is unavoidable, to pay it off as soon as possible.

Retain a Sense of Wonder

It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of our day to day tasks and challenges – which is why it’s even more important to retain a sense of wonder about life and the world we share.Nurturing our curiosity, our awe of the natural world and an awareness of our place in it strengthens us; making us more resilient.

No one knows how to better remind us of this than Sir David Attenborough:

What a Wonderful World with David Attenborough – BBC One

You Need Social Skills to Succeed in Business

If you think companies rise and fall based on logic and analytics alone you couldn’t be more wrong – we’re social creatures and science is starting to back that up with research. I’m loving this article by David Rock for Forbes on why social skills are so important at work.

“We have hired and promoted generations of managers with robust analytical skills and poor social skills, and we don’t seem to think that matters.

The technology to see very small things up close showed us we had much wrong about health. The technology to see big things far away showed us we are not the center of the universe.

More recently, a technology called fMRI, that lets us collect images of oxygen use inside an active brain, has shown us that some of our long-held beliefs about human motivation may be wrong.”

Read the complete article here

Coming up: The South African Enneagram Conference

South African Enneagram Conference I’m very excited to be speaking at this year’s conference where we’ll be tackling the theme “Diversity and the Enneagram”.Essentially this theme allows us to explore the following:

  • The Enneagram as a framework that illuminates diversity and invites compassion for others
  • The application of the Enneagram to support an appreciation of cultural diversity
  • A diversity of applications and approaches when working with the Enneagram
  • Complementary frameworks that work well with the Enneagram
  • The diversity that will be represented by the local and global Enneagram community attending the conference.

I’ll be speaking about “Bouncing Forward:Using the Enneagram to support and develop resilience” on Friday afternoon and will be sharing my experiences from the conference on this blog over the next few days.


Bad day at the office? Blame your sleeping patterns

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for me with exciting work projects taking me between Joburg, Cape Town and Durban. Something had to give and it this case that meant sacrificing on sleep. It seemed like a good short term strategy at the time, but reflecting on it now I realise that it’s not wise in the long run. Herewith a reminder of why we need to care of ourselves, even more so when the pressure is on. I would love to hear about how you manage to “get it all done” and get enough sleep (is this possible?).Read More