Why are Sleep Debts Common in Alaska?
Sleep debts are a term that, at their root, refer to how much sleep deprivation you are suffering from. The idea is this: you are supposed to get a certain amount of sleep per night, and each night you get less than this amount adds to your “debt” of sleep that you need to catch up on. In reality, it’s not this simple at all.
The term “sleep debt” is useful but misleading. It communicates the idea that if you don’t sleep enough, you will suffer consequences – namely, sleep deprivation. It also correctly communicates that if you sleep less than what you need, you will need to make sleep adjustments in order to get back to a rested state of being. But repaying your sleep debt is not like repaying a loan. More on this later.
Sleep debts are more common in Alaska than other places, namely because of the extreme conditions we live in here:
- Lots of light in summer
- Lots of darkness in winter
- Potentially radically different lifestyle habits in each season
All three of these points put you at risk for developing certain sleep disorders – or making them worse – that can lead to sleep deprivation, such as:
- Restless leg syndrome
- Circadian rhythm disorders
It’s important to understand how to correctly “repay” your sleep debt, and understand why sleep deprivation happens and what it feels like.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of recommended sleep you should be getting depends on your age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following, and you will find the same or very similar recommendations across different sources [National Sleep Foundation]:
- <1 year: 12-17 hours per day (more sleep for newborns than toddlers)
- 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
- 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
- 6-13 hours: 9-11 hours
- 14-17 hours: 8-10 hours
- 18-65: 7-9 hours
- 65+: 7-8 hours
Also, remember that you are individual with unique needs and lifestyle habits. The above list is a guideline, and it’s up to you to decide if you are a 40 year old who feels good after 7 hours of sleep or after 9 hours of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep leads to a number of health conditions
Figuring out how much sleep makes you feel rested is called baselining and is important for understanding how you can avoid sleep deprivation and/or properly “repay” your sleep debt.
Also keep in mind that sleeping patterns change as we age, and as you get older you may find that you need to supplement your nighttime sleep with naps in order to get the requisite sleep.
How to Repay and NOT Repay Your Sleep Debt
Contrary to what you might expect, you cannot oversleep (i.e., binge sleep) to repay your sleep debt. While getting some extra sleep is good, oversleeping is generally not recommended. A common way people use binge sleeping to try and repay their sleep debt is [note, don’t do this!]:
- You know you need 8 hours of sleep to feel rested
- Monday through Friday you get 6-7 hours of sleep per night
- Your “sleep debt” is about 6 hours
- On Friday night and Saturday night, you sleep about 11 hours each night, supposedly canceling your debt
Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Sleep studies show that getting one or two long nights of sleep does not remove the effects of sleep deprivation. After a night of very long sleep, you might feel better, but the effects of sleep deprivation will continue. Or, on the other hand, oversleeping might actually make you feel more tired and lethargic.
The actual way you repay your sleep debt is by:
- Establishing a healthy pattern of sleep over time
- Getting consistent, restful sleep until the effects of sleep deprivation are gone
If you find that you do not get enough sleep during the week and have a sleep debt by the time the weekend rolls around, what you should do is:
- Get extra sleep on the weekend without oversleeping
- Get enough or a little bit of extra sleep every day the following week
Some things in Alaska that we have to pay particular attention to in different seasons in order to set ourselves up for good sleep habits and sleep debt repayment are:
- (Summer) Get blackout curtains
- (Summer) Pay attention to shift work sleep disorder if you do shift work
- (Summer) Get white noise machine to drown out increased traffic noise
- (Winter) Use light therapy
- (Winter) Get exercise
Of course, recognizing that you have a sleep debt involves knowing how much sleep you should be getting and recognizing the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation causes lower performance physically, emotionally, and mentally. Common symptoms include [SleepEducation]:
- Lower performance in all areas of life (work, relationships, athletics)
- Chronic daytime fatigue
- Sleep attacks – sudden onset of sleep-readiness at an during the day
- Morning headaches
- Erectile dysfunction
- Reduced sex drive
- Memory trouble
- Concentration problems
- Brain fog
- Mood troubles
- Chronic irritability
- Medical complications
If you live in Alaska and deal with chronic sleep problems or sleep deprivation, please reach out to one of our sleep specialists. Start by taking this free online sleep test.