How to get out of the sleep-debt trap

Today’s world is fast-paced. New challenges are brought to us with ever- increasing speed. How we respond to those challenges depends not only on how qualified or experienced we are, but also on how fit and healthy we are. How fit and healthy we are is attributable to many things, but the single most important factor is are you getting enough rest?

Most of us put sleep at a pretty low premium.We justify losing an hour because we’re too busy. We have to work late, there’s a plane to catch, or whatever other excuse springs to mind. That is where we go wrong. Start by getting a good night’s rest and everything else falls into place. After all,if you are tired you will be much less likely to gothe gym or take a walk. Not only that, you’ll alsobe more likely to reach for fast-foods, caffeine or sugary drinks in an attempt to give yourself a (false) boost and that’s not going to help.

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Before we answer some of the most common questions regarding sleep, let’s just clarify what it is as it is not a time when your brain simply switches off. It’s a time when your brain runs through a whole series of essential tasks. If you don’t allow it to complete these tasks, the result will be much the same as if you never defrag or delete temporary files on your computer: you’ll slow down progressively until you seize up!

Sleep is not an optional extra. It’s an essential maintenance for your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

So how much sleep do I need?

It’s a fact that over half of us are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and are unaware of it.

Some people say they can manage on very little sleep, but by and large the old-wives tale that “you should get eight hours sleep every night” is about right if you are looking to operate at maximum capacity. Yet it is not really the amount of sleep that you are getting that matters as much as the quality of that sleep. It is quite possible to have too much sleep, in which case you will wake just as unrefreshed as if you had too little.

How do I know when I have not had enough sleep?

If you are not getting good rest you will find it harder to concentrate on any task, you will hesitate more and be less decisive. You may find yourself yawning in a business meeting if the room is warm.

On top of that your brain will operate more slowly than usual, you’ll be less patient and your sense of humour may well have been left on the pillow. You’ll need to cat nap during the day and you’ll find yourself nodding off on the train on the way home, or in front of the television when you get back.

If allowed to continue, sleep deprivation has a wide range of negative effects that go way beyond daytime drowsiness. It affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction times not to mention your libido. It can affect you just as much as being drunk.

Its effects can also include moodiness, reduced immunity, concentration problems, weight gain and reduced sex drive.

Get yourself out of debt and catch Up

If you fail to get the rest your body and brain require, you will be putting yourself into debt just as surely as you are when you take out a loan from a bank. The difference is that whereas you can repay your financial debts from future profits there is no way to pay off your sleep-debt except by getting more sleep! To test whether you are outof credit, go to bed half an hour earlier than you normally would. If you fall asleep easily, you are in debt. Repeat this process until you have caught up.

No, sleeping for longer at weekends will help you to pay off some of the balance of your sleep-debt, but it will also encourage you to get out of your routine. You are better off getting a little extra sleep each day, rather than trying to catch up with a big chunk on Saturdays and Sundays.

Simple tips and tactics:

The most important thing is to get into a routine. Go to bed and get up at regular times as often as you can.

Don’t watch television for at least an hour before you go to bed. Switch it off. And if you have one in your bedroom – take it out!

Don’t drink alcohol or smoke just before bed. As with television, drinking alcohol or smoking right before bed time will not relax you.

Cat napping really does help. Many world leaders have relied on it. Make sure each catnap is a maximum of twenty minutes. Longer than that and you will enter deeper sleep, from which you won’t wake refreshed.

Get enough physical exercise during any one day to leave your body feeling tired.

What happens when we sleep?

The secret to waking refreshed is to understand the cycles of brainwaves through which your brain will move during any night, and to choose in advance how long you wish to sleep for and when you wish to wake up.

The brain operates within certain bandwidths (cycles per second). During waking hours these tend to be either Gamma or Beta waves; Gamma being high stimulation (stress) and Beta being regular stimulation. When you fall asleep your brainwaves dip from Beta into Alpha

But they don’t stay there. Remain asleep and your brain will automatically move through a cycle from Alpha, through Theta and Delta back up to alpha again. This cycle takes approximately 90 minutes to complete and repeats itself when you stay asleep. After six hours, your brain will then remain in the Alpha brainwave state for another two hours.

Why is this important? Because where you are within that cycle when you wake up will determine how rested you feel the following day. It is always best to wake from REM or light sleep. If you wake from deep sleep (Delta) or deep rest (Theta) you will most likely have a lousy day.

When allowed to move through its restorative cycles unimpeded, your brain will always wake you when you are in the Alpha bandwidth – the one immediately below Beta. And that means you’ll wake refreshed.

Here’s a simple diagram to show you what I mean.

Armed with this knowledge, make sure that you wake yourself only when you know your brain will be back in the Alpha State. In other words, if you cannot get eight hours, you are better off getting four and a half, or six, rather than getting five and a half hours sleep.

If you are on a plane journey and you know you cannot get even that long, choose to sleep for three hours, rather than four. Always pick a multiple of 90 minutes from the time you fall asleep.

By the way, you do not require an alarm clock. Your subconscious mind is very accomplished. Simply tell it when to wake you and it will, but you must order it and be specific.

Most important is to give sleep equal priority with other essential functions like eating. Many of usfail to do this. There are so many things that seem more important, but just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimal health and happiness; the quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!


RICHARD CAWTE is a private consultant whose Alpha Technique helps client to perform at optimum levels both in business and personal life. His book Playing the Great Game of Life is available on Amazon. He can be contacted at