Having a consistent sleep schedule is key to helping you fall asleep at bedtime, and be able to wake up on time. If you remember the basics of sleep, our sleep is controlled by two main things. The first, homeostatic sleep pressure, requires that we are awake a certain number of hours before we can fall asleep again. The second, our circadian rhythm or internal clock, prepares our body for sleep at the right time.
Have you ever owed someone money? That is a type of debt that may take a while to pay back. We also can end up with a sleep debt, where we owe our bodies more sleep. For example, if your body needs 9 hours of sleep every night, and you only get 7 hours on school nights, by Friday night you owe your body 10 hours of sleep!! You can try to pay down your sleep debt on weekends by sleeping in, but if you also stay up later, you are likely not getting that much extra sleep. And if you are tired of hearing your parents tell you to “get up, you’re wasting away the day!” it is time to take control of your sleep debt and aim for a consistent amount of sleep every night.
Studies have shown that if you deprive yourself of sleep for a few nights, and then binge on sleep, you are going to have more problems with concentration, performance, and mood. So rather than pulling an “all-nighter,” or cheating yourself of a couple hours of sleep each night, you should aim for a consistent sleep amount every night. This may mean you have to create a better schedule for yourself in terms of when you have activities, and when you can get your homework done, to ensure that you are ready to sleep at bedtime.
The other issue with staying up late and sleeping in on weekends is social jetlag. Because our internal clocks run on a 24.2 hour day, it is easier to make our days longer (by staying up later). Think how much you like that extra hour of sleep in the fall when we go off daylight saving time. But it is really hard to make your day shorter, which is what happens when we go on daylight saving time in the spring and lose an hour of sleep.
On weekends, if you stay up late and sleep in, you are basically having your body travel to Hawaii (without the sunshine and scenery). On Sunday night, you try to return to Denver, and now you can’t fall asleep! One reason is that it can take only 1 or 2 days to adjust to making your day longer, but it can take 4-5 days to adjust to making your day shorter again. Also, if you sleep in on Sunday morning, you will not be awake enough hours during the day to help you return to sleep.
So, Sunday night is REALLY hard to fall asleep and Monday morning is REALLY hard to wake up. Monday night is still miserable, Tuesday is terrible, Wednesday is only wacky, and by Thursday you are back on track, ready for your next weekend trip to Hawaii…
“But you just said I can pay down my sleep debt on weekends!” This is true, if you get an extra hour or 2 of sleep on weekends, you will pay down your sleep debt a little, but not completely. But this should not come at the expense of increasing your sleep debt during the week.
Week 1 Challenge
The challenge for this week is to set a consistent bedtime and wake time. You should be able to go to bed and wake up within 1 hour of your goal (but absolutely no more than 2 hours) on both weekdays and weekends.
Impossible, you say?!? Give it a try for one week, and see how much easier it is for you to fall asleep and wake up. Remember, not only should you maintain a set sleep schedule, this schedule should give you a chance to sleep enough hours that you do not create a significant sleep debt.