Working for the weekend|
Commentary by Capt. John Lavin
Aerospace & Operational Physiology Team
11/3/2010 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- I usually wake up around six in the morning on the weekends. When I tell people this, it is usually met with the same comment: "Ouch! That has to hurt!" This remark puzzles me, given that I rarely sleep in on the weekends. I am not punishing myself by waking up "early"; my body wakes up naturally at this time because I am not repaying any sleep debt accumulated during the week. Since I am fully rested and raring to go, by the time the majority of sleep-deprived folks drag themselves out of bed at noon on the weekend, I have already worked out, eaten breakfast, completed my "honey-do" list and am getting ready to head out on a bike ride with the family. Think of all you could accomplish if you weren't sleeping in on the weekends.
Let me back up a minute and briefly explain sleep debt to those of you who might not be familiar with the term. According to Scientific American, sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get. Studies have shown that accumulated sleep debt leads to a foggy brain, impaired vision, impaired driving and memory problems. Long term effects can include obesity, insulin resistance and heart disease. Whether in bed, at the desk at work or behind the wheel of an automobile, the body has a way of taking back the sleep it needs. But the good news is that the debt can be repaid.
Sleep is all too often sacrificed for other priorities we deem more important. It's all too common these days to go to bed late and get up after only five to six hours of sleep. This results in about two to three hours of sleep debt per night. After a week, the ensuing cumulative sleep debt can be between 10 and 15 hours. Then what happens to your weekend? You sleep it away to repay this debt! And this, of course, creates another problem, by sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday - you disrupt your circadian rhythm and stay up later than you should on Sunday night and then you have primed yourself for the sleep debt cycle to start again.
It's a vicious cycle; one that will take its toll eventually. Whether in job performance or your personal life, it will affect you negatively. Concentration and performance rapidly degrade. Simple tasks that can be accomplished with ease tend to become more difficult and prone to errors without adequate sleep. Individuals suffering from sleep deprivation can lose their patience easily and tend to misprioritize tasks. There aren't any benefits to accumulating sleep debt.
Getting rid of sleep debt requires one to get more sleep. Sounds easy enough, but many people have trouble falling asleep. There are some things you can try to help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. First of all, you must have a comfortable sleep surface. A cool, dark room gives the body some of the signals it needs to begin shutting down. The body's temperature naturally drops during sleep, so turning down the thermostat accelerates the process. Darkness signals the body that it's night time and time for sleep. An eye mask can help if the room cannot be completely darkened. A radio or fan turned to the lowest settings can create soothing white noise. Perhaps the most important tip of all is to develop a pre-sleep routine that works for you. It may be reading a book, watching some TV or listening to a little music before bed. Once it develops into a routine, the body recognizes these actions and begins the process of slowing down its gears and turning off the switches preparing for sleep.
Plan to try some of these techniques for two weeks. Figure out what time you need to wake up in the morning and go to bed eight hours prior. Set your alarm clock for your normal wake up time on the weekends, so as not to disrupt your circadian rhythm. You will be glad you did when you awake Monday morning. You may find that you feel better throughout the week. You are also likely to notice an improvement in your concentration and focus, which will in turn improve your work output and performance.
If you are "tired" of dragging through the week and sleeping your weekends away; please feel free to contact the office of Aerospace and Operational Physiology and we can help provide you with an in-depth look into your specific work and rest cycles. Contact us at 723-5032.
With sleep, it's all about quality and quantity. Get yours and stop working for the weekend.