imagesThis past weekend, Hub and I left the kiddos with Grammi and took a quick trip with some friends to a cabin in the southernmost part of the state. We had so much fun laughing, catching up, and just decompressing from the daily grind.

The timing of the trip for me couldn’t have been better. You’ll hear me say this far too often—but I do NOT love winter. Like, at all. So a simple change of pace and scenery was just what the doctor ordered to help me nip my S.A.D. in the nads.

For my dear husband, however, a different weekend would have probably served him better. He was scheduled to work 12-hour night shifts Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. He had taken 24 hours of his vacation time to cover the Friday and Saturday shifts, but kept the Sunday and Monday shifts.

Friday night at the cabin, neither of us slept well. Saturday night, I slept great but he still didn’t catch up. Sunday we got home around 11 a.m. hoping that he could get some rest before going into work, but still, sleep evaded him.

After his 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift Sunday night, he came home and went straight to bed, but was only able to stay asleep until about 11:00 a.m. He lounged around the house Monday afternoon, still not able to make himself take a nap, and pushed through a fourth night without adequate sleep.

So he got home this morning (Tuesday), is scheduled to be off Wednesday and Thursday, then will leave Friday morning at 5:30 a.m. to begin his round of weekend 12-hour day shifts.

Good Lawdy, let’s talk about “sleep debt”! Because my man is seriously in a hole right now. So I want to know: how bad is it and what can we do?

What is “Sleep Debt”?

Sleep Debt was surely established by some hard-number-lovin’ scientists. It’s basically a mathematical equation used to quantify the accumulation of inadequate sleep sessions. It goes like this:

(Number of Ideal Sleep Hours) – (Number of Actual Sleep Hours) = Sleep Debt

So if you usually need 8 hours of sleep to feel well, but only get 6 hours one night, you have a Sleep Debt of 2 hours.

Now, there are stipulations for repaying your “debt.” So let’s take a look…

Balancing the Books

Many sleep studies have been conducted to assess the physical and attentive symptoms of sleep deprivation. In these studies, scientists have concluded that no more than 2 hours of sleep debt can be recouped per day, and only recent debts (within a 1-week span) can be repaid.

Using my man as our example:

Over the course of 4 days, he has accumulated at least 12 hours of sleep debt. He only has Wednesday and Thursday off and can only pay back 2 hours per day. Even if he sleeps soundly for 10 hours both days, he will still have an 8-hour deficit.

When he starts back on shift, he’s only home for 10 hours total in a 24-hour span (after we factor in drive time and shift turnover). So by the time he eats, showers, packs food, etc., he’ll be doing great just to get his full 8 hours on those days.

So at this point, he has to accept that our lovely weekend cost him a total of 8 hours (a full night) of healthy sleep that can never be recovered.

So what…

You Can Sleep When You’re Dead?

Eeesh! I can’t even tell you how horrifying for me it was to research the dangers of sleep deprivation, especially in regards to workers on rotating shifts.

  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Psychological disorders
  • Immune system disorders
  • Digestive disorders
  • Attentive and reactive impairment

…And the list goes on and on. The results of sleep studies make it quite clear:

Adequate sleep is as ESSENTIAL to our health

as adequate nutrition and exercise.

And yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that around 40% of Americans do not maintain healthy sleep habits. And I’m not just pointing my finger at my husband in this post… I’m one of them! I struggle with insomnia and restlessness on a weekly basis. And on top of my own issues, I’m a mother of two pre-schoolers who aren’t awesome sleepers either.

So, What Can We Do About It?

In his book Power Sleep, Dr. James Maas suggests that sleep debt should be paid back by going to bed earlier, not by waking up later. He recommends always keeping the same wake-up schedule to maximize your energy and alertness during the day.

He also suggests that naps can also be helpful for repaying your sleep debts, as long as they occur before 3:00 p.m.

As for sleep quality, I’m sad to say that I have yet to find a miracle solution, but I do keep a box of AdvoCare SleepWorks at home to help me relax if my “busy brain” tries to get the best of me at bedtime. And we also try to practice basic sleep hygiene tips such as:

  • Leaving electronics out of the bedroom
  • Making sure the room is cool and dark
  • “Unplugging” 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime
  • Using a white noise machine
  • Writing out our to-do list for the next day at least 1 hour prior to bedtime
  • Stretch while praying or meditating to relax muscles and calm the mind

I guess what I would like to be the main takeaway here is that sleep is VITAL to our overall health, so we need to be aware of our deficits and how quickly “sleep debt” can pile up.

Of course, as with any topic, I’d love to hear from you on this. Do you have any tips on healthy sleep habits? Feel free to comment below or connect with me on Facebook.