Sleep Debt. How it works

Is your daily life in a state of exhaustion? Do you go through the daily grind feeling tired, gloomy, and apathetic? Never quite up to par, and longing for that extra energy you can't quite find? 

So many people think the continuous state of exhaustion is normal. That it is a status quo to be accepted. It's chalked up to busy work schedules, demands, and not having enough hours in the day to get everything done. Some people have gotten so used to walking around in a daze, they don't even notice it anymore.

The truth is that you may be suffering from, sleep debt.
It most likely also means that you're not functioning at an optimal level, and may not be feeling happiness, and well-being.

Did you know (Dement, 1999, p. 3-4, 231):
  • Half of us mismanage our sleep to the point where it negatively affects our health and safety. 
  • American Cancer Society studies show a significant association between sleep and longevity
  • On average, each of us sleeps one and a half fewer hours each night than our great-grandparents did a century ago.
  • If someone you know has had a heart attack (especially at a young age), there is a good chance that an undiagnosed sleep disorder contributed to the problem.
  • When people sleep only four hours a night for two weeks, their performance scores are the same as those who were kept up for three straight days and nights (University of Pennsylvania research) 

The bottom line on sleep debt

Look at your sleep as a bank account, whereby accumulated lost sleep is like a monetary debt. Accumulated debt may have crept up in small increments over several days/months/years, and although you may pay it back in small amounts, there still may be a large underlying debt to pay. The small paybacks can help to feel a lot better, but the truth is that in the end, it must be paid back in full.

The brain is quite amazing. It actually keeps an accurate accounting record of how much sleep we owe. It strives to maintain a homeostatic balance between sleep and wakefulness. Just like hunger, the feeling of tiredness and needing sleep is a basic drive in us.

Stanford researcher, William C. Dement M.D., informs us that, "In a very real sense all wakefulness is sleep deprivation. As soon as you wake up, the meter starts ticking, calculating how many hours of sleep you will need to pay off that night" (1999, p.57). 

 Although some people may need a little more or less, there is scientific agreement that most need to sleep one hour for every two hours awake. In general, an average of eight hours a night.

The brain tries to hit this mark and level out at a sleep debt of zero since the debt cannot be lower than zero, and sleep is something that cannot be saved up for a rainy day. It tries to hit the mark by making us feel sleepy as a signal to slide into temporary hibernation. 

At the opposite end of the scale, we know that most people completely collapse after three or four days of total sleep loss, which adds up to 24 to 32 hours of sleep debt, in addition to what they already had. When a sleep debt is paid, it is only temporary. It means that the state of wakefulness occurs, and we begin to accumulate a new debt.

However, the alertness-sleepiness continuum is pretty complex, and environmental stimulation makes us very bad judges of our sleep tendency. We may not perceive the debt correctly if we are stressed by external stimulation. "Keeping your baseline sleep debt low can make the difference between being sharp enough to function in a crises and being too fuzzy-headed to think, between feeling just a little less energetic and feeling really awful" (Dement, 1999, p. 370).


Most of us know of certain conditions and substances that disrupt feeling sleepy, and our ability to correctly read the body's signals. Stress, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, just to name a few.

Yet, there are two things that can really benefit us, and give us more bang for the buck.

The first is the light in our sleeping environment. It has the strongest influence on our circadian rhythms, helping our brain regulate when it's time to sleep, and time to wake in the long term game of prevention. Window coverings that allow morning light to gradually awaken us in the transition from darkness, aids the brain in maintaining its natural cyclical regulation. On a side note, regular physical exercise is also great at regulating the circadian clock.

The second is napping. Napping sometimes gets a bum rap. It's a great pleasure for many, yet is sometimes looked upon as laziness. Forget the negative connotation, and nap with a good conscience. It is a most effective tool for combating sleep crises. According to Dement
(p. 371), "Naps make you smarter, faster, and safer than you would be without them. They should be widely recognized as a powerful tool in battling fatigue"(1999, p. 371).  Naps pay down that debt!

Spend a few minutes to think about your life lately. How is your stress level? What are your daily habits, and how do you maintain your balance between rest and activity? How much sleep are you getting on average per night? See if you can uncover a few small things that are easy to adjust, which would improve the quality of your days by improving the quality of your sleep. 

It's time for a nap!

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Stay safe and warm wishes,
Tamera Daun

Dement, W.C. (1999). The promise of sleep. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Protein. What about it?

 With today's frenzy for fitness, there is a lot of focus put on the subject of protein. Increased protein intake is no longer just for high level athletes, and body builders. Containers of protein powder abound in homes out there, and people increase their intake for weight-loss purposes.

So, what's all the hype? Is too much protein detrimental? Can it lead to toxicity? There are varying opinions, and not all of them are thus far backed by scientific evidence. Yet, all existing scientific evidence needs to be met with a critical mind. 

Much of the worry about protein is that too high of an intake may strain or damage kidney (renal) function, leading to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). 

Without getting too deep into the physiology, the generally accepted definition of CKD is decreased glomular filtration for 3 or more months. In addition, there are 5 stages of CKD. In other words, a progression. Furthermore, several conditions may predispose people for CKD; hypertension, diabetes, also abuse of analgesics.

First of all, it's necessary to mention that the body is in continuous flux. It constantly sustains homeotasis, adapting to the challenges we present it. The body is an amazing organism capable of handling strain and stress, and the kidneys are amazing organs in the same regard. In healthy individuals, protein intake far beyond recommended intake is tolerated by the kidneys, and there resides no evidence that it is harmful. 

To throw a little research background out there; the two longest standing studies are the Brenner Hypothesis, and the Nurse's Health Study. In short, the Brenner Hypothesis proposed that excessive protein intake negatively impacted renal function. The hypothesis fell short as it was a heterogeneous study meaning that dissimilar individuals were studied, whereby some of them were healthy, and some of them already within the five stage range of CKD. The Nurse's Health Study was research conducted on a homogenous group of patients already diagnosed with renal disease. In this case, it did show that excessive protein intake decreases renal function over time (11 year study) in these patients. Renal function is no longer optimal in patients with CKD, and the kidneys cannot handle as much stress. Yet, in comparison, no decreased renal function was found in a group of healthy individuals. 

So, here's some food for thought. 

The researcher in me is somewhat dissatisfied with the longevity and variable variation of existing studies specifically regarding renal function. Although an eleven year study warrants clout, it is seldom enough when researching long-term health effects. Remember that studies rarely give us an entire conclusion on any subject. They may help us answer one single question, but the answer is dependent on the design of the study; the target group, the variables, the longevity, the financing. Yet, the answer is usually one in a great maze of complexity.

The nurse in me knows that people are not running to their primary physicians testing their glomerular filtration rates, may have unrecognized symptoms or predisposed conditions, and especially those past the age of youth. My concern applies especially to the millions using high protein intake to promote weight loss, and without knowing their present health status. Furthermore, important is the knowledge that individuals have varying needs depending on other conditions, age, level of activity. 

In the age of information, it's easy to accept the side of the discussion that best fits wishes and mindsets, and without thought given to other effects on the totality of the body's physiology. It is understandable that if weight loss, fitness, or muscle mass is the focus of individual goals, it is a natural thing for people to jump on the wagon as a means to the end.

The health educator in me prods me to rather encourage people to seek the help of a dietician or other qualified professional that can provide knowledge of physiology and help map individual needs. It prods me to appeal to people to be somewhat critical, and ask pro/con questions. To ask, "What is right for me? What is necessary/unnecessary for my needs?".

In caretaking ourselves and our health, balance is key. Homeostasis means balance. Our job is to help our bodies maintain that balance in all that we do. Knowledge is a first step, and a powerful tool.

Stay safe and warm wishes,
Tamera Daun 

Relationship woes and experts

Intimate relationships are not always a stroll in the park, are they? They can feel quite challenging at times. 

Relationships were the focus of my work when Pentad opened its door over a decade ago. I held seminars for women, and I helped couples formulate pragmatic goals as a step forward out of stagnation. My every waking moment was consumed with these subjects.

The more I dug into the depths of common concepts taken for granted, the more frustrated I became at the media's portrayal of that which was supposed to work to save relationships, or what people should do to "spice" up their love lives. So little substance, and people eat it up. Why? Because they count on the media's use of experts. They count on expert mastership of knowledge.
I was frustrated, and I didn't have a magic bullet or formula I was trying to brand and sell.
I realize how many families are hurting out there, and children are affected in that mix. Countless tips and methods not only set people up to fail, but many end up feeling like failures. I realize the harshness of the statement, but it is my honest opinion.

I painfully sense that many are up in the lofty branches of a rotting tree, desperately attempting to paint dry leaves green, all the while ignoring the condition of the roots and trunk. I don't know. In the scheme of bigger and better, simplicity may not be fancy enough. Frilly quick solutions become mindset. They become a cultural standard, and even though people realize that they could not be further from the truth of the realities they live.

So, the process got me to thinking about how I could turn my own frustration into something a little more constructive. I wondered if there was anything I could share with people that may empower them in their search for answers and help, and especially those that feel confused about the 'who is who' in the expert environment.

I think the most important piece of information people should know when faced with an ocean of methods, is the fact that those working with these issues come from different academic backgrounds. This means that their perspectives, and therefore their focus and methods, are very much colored by their respective theoretical foundation.

Couples therapy is not necessarily considered a true science by the entire academic community. This doesn't mean that therapists are not excellent in helping people try to problem-solve and understand their lives. You will even find NLP practitioners working with individuals to solve their relationship difficulties. You will find specialists in personal development. You will find psychiatrists and social workers. And, you will find that psychologists and family therapists, historically, have couped the field as the largest groups.

Although a couple of specialists (such as John Gottman) work to elevate its status through the scientific method, couples therapy has primarily been one of trial and error. Methods are evidence-based. Please keep all of this in mind each time a new theory or magic bullet is lanced in the media.

Academic tradition may inform people which therapy is the acceptable norm (and, the historical foundation of this is a discussion entirely unto itself), yet not all methods feel comfortable for all individuals. To be quite honest, people are just looking for something that works. Something that helps them move forward.

This became clear to me as the majority of those requesting my services were men. It was a revelation. Statistically, it is not men that tend to seek help for their relationship woes. Their female partners do. Generally, females seek help when communication needs are on the table, and many times already have one foot out the door. They feel they are at their wit's end. Yet, men often times feel as though nothing else is happening than 'talking'. They provided feedback that the planning/goal setting aspect of the services appealed to them. They were more than willing to get the ball rolling and step up to the plate, if there was something they could DO to enable it.

We human beings are beautifully complex, and equally so in our interactions and relationships. There is no magic bullet. Put the consumer mindset in you aside for a moment, and ask yourself a few honest questions.

Ask yourself, "What is it that I really need and want?".

What would help? There is a vast pool of knowledge and expertise out there ready to help you get to work. Is it communication that needs improvement in your relationship? Is there an aspect of personal development you personally feel would make a difference? Do you need an expert practical planner that could help make everyday life more manageable? Or, is it a matter of finding interests to share? What do you argue about? Where lies the resentment?  Which themes are present? Many times our needs are more simplistic than we think. 

Start there, and see what happens. It may take a while for the answers to bubble up to the surface, but surface they will. 

"Courage means to keep working a relationship, to continue seeking solutions to difficult problems, and to stay focused during stressful periods." -Denis Waitley-

Stay safe and warm wishes,
Tamera Daun