Sleep 101: Can you repay “sleep debt?”

If sleep were a credit card company, most of us would be in trouble. Regardless of the cause, sleep debt is the accumulated amount of sleep loss from insufficient sleep.

Can you repay “sleep debt?”

Whether it’s due to a new Netflix series you can’t stop binging on or extra hours at the office, sacrificing sleep Monday through Friday is something we all do, more often than we’d like to admit. Lose an hour every night and you’re faced with five hours of sleep debt once the weekend hits.

Think sleeping in late on a Saturday will help?

Think again.

The problem with stocking up on sleep on the weekend is that it’s won’t necessarily erase your debt. Some experts say you can “repay” a sleep debt to some degree, but not in big chunks of time.

It is best to stay on a regular sleep schedule (yes, even on the weekends), as our circadian rhythm works best with regularity.

If you tend to sleep late on weekends, you may find that it becomes harder to fall asleep come Sunday night. This only starts your work week off on the wrong side of the bed.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests the best way to bounce back from your stockpile of sleep debt is to spread it out. Be persistent and hit the hay a little earlier every night for a week or more but keep your wake time the same. Daytime naps may also help you play catch-up without disrupting your flow.

Read more on “How to Create a Bedtime Routine.

What about shift workers?

But, for the 22 million of Americans who work a “nonstandard” schedule — evening or night shifts or rotating days off — it can be especially challenging to get sufficient sleep. The best thing shift workers can do is to start tracking sleep patterns to ensure you’re logging enough hours. Also, aim to optimize their sleep environment (ex: blackout shades and cool temperatures), control the caffeine intake, nap when needed and sleep disrupting reduce blue light from cell phones.

Check out our series on sleep for more information:

Sleep 101: How do cell phones mess with sleep?

Unless you’ve been asleep the past few years, you’ve probably heard the advice to turn off electronic devices before bedtime. But why? How does the blue light from cell phones actually mess with your sleep?

How do cell phones mess with sleep?

Snuggling up to your cell phone in bed has been shown to negatively impact sleep. Mostly, this is due to the mental stimulation they lead to. From constantly scrolling through social media or endless emails, these activities at right before bed increase alertness and makes it difficult to relax and fall asleep.

According to a study, published in Cell Reports, for example, researchers determined how “certain cells in the eye process ambient light and reset our internal clocks, the daily cycles of physiological processes known as the circadian rhythm. When these cells are exposed to artificial light late into the night, our internal clocks can get confused, resulting in a host of health issues.”

Simply put: lights on signals wakefulness; lights off signals sleep.

Cell phones and other electronic devices like TVs and computers disrupt sleep by delaying the release of melatonin, which is the signal to start the sleep process (signaled and regulated by darkness.) The bright lights from these devices actually trick the brain into thinking that it’s still daytime.

Consider leaving your cell phone in a separate room to allow your mind and body to recharge, too. If you must be on your phone, turn on the ‘night mode’ to dim the screen and ease the light on your eyes.

Check out our series on sleep for more information:

Sleep 101: How much sleep do you really need?

So, your training and nutrition are both on point, but you still don’t perform the way you want? Poor recovery  habits, like a lack of sleep, may be to blame. So how much sleep do you need in the first place?

In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the most common questions about sleep.

How much sleep do you need (really)?

Most of us know that getting enough quality rest is important, but, far too few of us actually make shut-eye a priority. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly a third of adults sleep less than 7 hours per night. This lack of sleep leads to increased fatigue during the day, lower energy in training, and decreased ability to focus at work and at home.

To complicate matters even more, blue lights, caffeine, and other stimulants are interfering with our natural sleep/wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm. For those struggling with excessive sleep debt, it can be hard to remember what feeling truly rested is even like anymore.

So, how much sleep do you need?

You may have heard that too much or too little sleep can both have negative effects. But, the amount of sleep you need exactly depends on your genes, age, health status and lifestyle factors such as stress, level of physical activity and work schedules.

Newer recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation provides an optimal window of time for different age groups. For adults (ages 26-64), it is recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep (but as little as six or as much as 10 may be appropriate).

Here is their general guideline:

6-13 years old = 9.5-12 hours a night
14-17 years old = 8-11 hours a night
18-25 years old = 7-11 hours a night
26-64 years old= 7-9 hours a night

What’s your magic number?

To find the magic number for you, you’ll have to take a look at the bigger picture. If you’re out less than six hours of sleep each night AND do NOT experience negative side effects, you may be considered a ‘short sleeper.’ This would be the only appropriate scenario to sleep less than the above recommended amount.

On the flip side, some people require more than 10 hours per night (‘long sleepers’). But only if no negative side effects occur.

Read more on “Sleeping Tips for Athletes.

Not sure if you’re sleep deprived?

Some common signs of deprivation include:

  • cognitive impairment
  • fatigue
  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • impaired overall performance
  • mood disturbances
  • behavioral problems
  • reduced performance, strength, accuracy

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to also lead to more serious health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiac problems and more.

If you’re experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms, chance are that you may more rest.

Read more on “How to Create a Bedtime Routine.

Using the above recommendations as a guide, it’s crucial to factor in your own needs to optimize sleep for well-being and performance goals.

Check out our series on sleep for more information:

Sleep 101: How does (a lack of) sleep impact performance?

Getting enough quality sleep is often emphasized for competitive athletes to promote physical and mental recovery from rigorous training sessions, minimize the risk of injury, prevent fatigue and boost performance. And losing sleep can directly impact performance, too.

The last question we’ll address in our Sleep 101 series is how sleep – or a lack of – can affect your performance in CrossFit or weightlifting as it relates to competitions.

How does (a lack of) sleep impact performance?

If you travel for competition, there’s a chance you’ve experienced significant sleep impairment the night before the competition from travel departure times, jet lag or altitude differences. While more research is still needed on the effects of sleep and strength, some particular findings suggest that on a short timescale, sleep deprivation can have a major impact on performance, from slower reflexes and response times to a decrease in motivation to exert effort.

Pre-competition nerves are hard to control. But, thankfully, extra sleep has been seen to contribute to improved performance. One way to prep for a competition is to load up on some Zzzzs the nights before, so you don’t go into a comp sleep deprived.  Studies even show that banking a few hours in the week leading up to the competition can also reduce the impact of restrictive sleep the night before.

So, if you’re one to notoriously lose out on sleep the night before a meet, the best thing you can do is prepare as much as possible ahead of time and not obsess over it. Prioritize sleep as part of your daily recovery schedule in the weeks- and even months- leading up to a competition. Stay out of sleep debt and even stock up when you can.

Also, remember to utilize some relaxation strategies such as an epsom salt bath, meditation and stretching to help you wind down and get some much-needed rest.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series! Check out the other common questions in our Sleep 101 series below.

Check out our series on sleep for more information:

Sleep 101: Should you still workout if you haven’t slept well?

Wondering if you should still workout if you haven’t slept well? We’ll address this question in the second of our Sleep 101 series.

Should you workout if you haven’t slept well?

Not sure if swapping sleep for exercise is a good idea?

The general recommendation above is to get at least seven hours of sleep a night for most adults. But, some studies show that those who exercise during the day, versus those who don’t exercise at all, are likely to get a better night’s sleep. That being said, everyone responds differently.

For most people, everything tends to feel a little more difficult when you’re tired.

It’s important to realize that the demands of CrossFit and Weightlifting training both increase the requirement of recovery sleep. When you workout, you’re actually breaking down muscle. Without enough sleep, testosterone levels will decrease, which in turn, impacts your ability to repair muscles at night. Limited sleep time and quality can both hinder muscle growth.

Generally, you can workout if you haven’t slept well, but it will not be as efficient.

A lack of sleep can lead to a reduction in strength and reaction times and can also increase your perception of how difficult a training session is. (ugh, burpees again?!) While there will always be times when you don’t get enough sleep, it is important to recognize how sleep can impact your training session.

Read more: Sleep 101: Can you repay “sleep debt?”

Additionally a lack of sleep can also affect your hormonal balance, including cortisol and insulin. This could adversely impact body weight by promoting an increased appetite for high carbohydrate foods and fats, making it difficult to stay on track with your food choices.

If you must train, consider taking backing off on percentages or shorten your training time at the gym.

Read more on “Sleeping Tips for Athletes.

What about the timing of your workout?

While previous recommendations used to discourage exercise too close to bedtime, a growing number of studies support exercise at night. Regular exercise, particularly in the evening and nighttime, has been shown to improve sleep quality among healthy adults, challenging the conventional idea that evening exercise is detrimental.

Your best bet is to experiment with different training times (if your schedule allows), take notes on your sleep quantity and quality, energy throughout the day and training results.

What about staying asleep?

Try to keep a set sleep-wake schedule to promote regular sleep time, maintain a calm, cool and comfortable sleeping environment, limit external stimuli such as light and noise, avoid alcohol too close to bedtime (within a few hours of sleep) and limit caffeine after noon.

But, like your programming and nutrition needs, workout timing is very individual.

What works for them may not work for you.

Read more on “How to Create a Bedtime Routine.

Check out our series on sleep for more information:

Do you have questions about exercise or nutrition? Give us a shout!