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How To Catch Up On Lost Sleep

Posted by iBlog on May 13, 2008

Sleeping too little messes with your mind and hurts your body.

Sleep not only makes you feel sharp and rested; it seems to play a key role in how the brain sorts out information and lays down long-term memories. And a lack of sleep has been associated with maladies ranging from cardiovascular disease to depression the CDC says.

Sleep debt is real. Go to bed too late or wake up too early day after day, and you’ll be faced with your own personal sleep credit crisis. It’s not entirely clear what’s going on in the body when this happens, but this NIH explainer suggests the compound adenosine may play a key role.

Adenosine builds up in the blood while you’re awake, and is broken down while you sleep. Over time, if you don’t get enough sleep, the level of adenosine in your blood rises. (Caffeine, by the way, is thought to keep you awake by interfering with the brain receptors that sense adenosine.)

Indeed, you may have more sleep debt than you think, Scientific American suggests in a story published this week. “People accumulate sleep debt surreptitiously,” psychiatrist William C. Dement, founder of the Stanford University Sleep Clinic, tells SciAm. A few minutes here, a few there, and suddenly your brain may be trying to foreclose on your alarm clock.

You can pay down that debt, but not in a single weekend sleep marathon.

Instead, SciAm says, you need to get an extra hour or two a night over many nights to get back to normal. If you’ve been missing sleep for a while, it could take months to get the sleep-debt monkey off your back.

For best results, go to sleep when you’re tired and sleep until you wake up naturally in the morning. Sounds great. But, like much common-sense medical advice, it also sounds tough to put into practice. In the meantime, the Health Blog will have another cup of coffee to get us through the afternoon.

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