A Long Winter’s Nap

Some of us go back to work today, but many of us are still on winter break, taking some time off from school or work. Time off is important for our health, but it’s hard to get enough rest in our busy world. Harvard University researchers report that 60% of American women have a “sleep debt” — that is, they haven’t slept enough to keep themselves well rested. A Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans know they don’t get enough sleep.

If you don’t get enough sleep last night and don’t catch up by sleeping longer tonight, you’ll end up with a sleep debt.

In one study, healthy University of Chicago student volunteers slept just four hours each night, about half as much sleep as most people need, for six nights. Researchers found that just that amount of sleep debt made some real changes in the students’ bodies. They had higher blood pressure, more of the stress hormone cortisol, less ability to develop antibodies to protect against viruses, and more insulin resistance.

This research confirmed what other studies have found: that lack of sleep can be a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

The student volunteers made up their sleep debt and their bodies went back to normal. But some of us don’t repay our sleep debts. We work hard and when we take a break, we play hard. Years of sleep debt may have severe consequences on our health.

This year, consider getting some extra sleep while you have some time off. Go to bed early tonight and sleep till you wake up naturally. Doze off in the afternoon if you have a party coming up. Start back to work or school rested.