Mornings, he’d wake up feeling like he had just closed his eyes minutes earlier. He’d down a couple of cups of coffee, nod off driving to work, caffeine his way through the morning, and then after lunch grab a quick nap in his car before heading back to his desk where he’d drag through the afternoon. Twice a week, he’d grab a power nap in the afternoon or down a power drink late in the day, and then head out after work to activities that kept him out late—a bowling league and a poker club.
The nights he didn’t have an activity, he’d plop down in his recliner the minute he got home from work where he’d fall asleep watching TV and then wake a few hours later, grab some dinner, and then head to bed where he’d toss and turn all night.
When Friday quittin’ time came around, he was ready to hit the clubs and stayed out until three in the morning. Rising late on Saturday he’d spend the day tooling around the house, napping when he needed to get a burst of energy, and then working on projects until the early hours of the morning before finally heading to bed. Sundays, he told us, were his day for “catching up” on sleep. “On Sundays, when I’m not in bed, I’m napping in a chair,” he told us. “That’s how I fuel myself for the week ahead.”
What Jack didn’t realize was that his head-nodding workdays were the result of sleep debt—a lack of proper sleep that can’t be reversed by lying around one day out of the week. Sleeping in on the weekend to make up for lost sleep during the week does not get you “caught up” on sleep. In fact, sleeping in actually confuses the body, making it harder to get up on Monday morning and head for work. And an irregular sleep schedule like Jack’s is all the more confusing to the body.
Having a regular routine—getting up at the same time every day and going to bed at the same time every night—is one of the most important rules for getting good sleep. Having a regular schedule sets your “clock,” which controls the production of melatonin, the hormone your body produces that induces sleep. People who have a regular routine and a well-regulated internal clock can even wake up in the morning without an alarm clock., those mental, physical, and behavioral changes your body goes through in a 24-hour cycle in response to light and dark. Circadian rhythms work with your body’s internal
Your body—and your brain—need deep, restful sleep to regenerate. Closing your eyes for a few minutes now and then won’t do it. What your body needs is Slow Wave delta sleep and REM sleep, the deeper phases of sleep when the body and brain restore energy.
As you fall asleep, your body goes through stages of decreasing alertness. During the first three stages, your energy starts to deplete in order to build of the reserve of energy needed for the fourth stage, REM. Even when dealing with sleep debt, you still have to go through the three stages of sleep before entering that fourth, regenerative REM stage. Without doing that on a regular basis by having a regular sleep routine, your body becomes confused—like Jack’s. REM sleep is also where we dream and consolidate memories.
For many, people, lack of deep sleep is a chronic, decades-long problem. They have serious sleep debt, and there is no way to make up for it. Add that sleep debt to an already stressed-out lifestyle, and their problems can become almost insurmountable.