Sleep Debt: Can you pay it off?

According to the American Sleep Association, up to 70 million adults in the US have a sleep disorder. In the past, scientists thought that you could make up for lost sleep. But new research is showing you may not be able to pay off your sleep debt.

You probably know sleep is important for overall health but more than one in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep on a regular basis!

If you think you can make up for missed sleep by sleeping in on the weekends, think again! A new review published in the Journal Trends in Neurosciences found sleep deprivation in mice led to cell death in the brain after just a few days. It also caused inflammation in the prefrontal cortex and increased levels of proteins linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“Sleep is the VIP service everybody needs. Regardless of age, sleep is so important to our system. It affects basically every area of our life,” Certified Sleep Consultant Leandre Schoeman said.

If you’re struggling to squeeze in enough sleep, try to set a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool and quiet. Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. or naps longer than 20 minutes.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol throughout the day. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something calming, like reading. And if you’re really struggling, talk to your doctor about medication options.

And, for the mice that had been sleep deprived, they still suffered damage even after a full year of regular sleep, suggesting you can’t undo the effects.

Most sleep studies on brains have been done in animals so there’s currently no ethical way to measure the degree of cell damage caused by sleep deprivation in a living human.