You may be one of the millions of Americans who suffer from a weekly pattern of chronic sleep restriction. Perhaps you sleep six hours or less each night during the workweek, and then you try to “catch up” with 1 to 2 nights of extra sleep on the weekend?

Our national sleep debt

Unfortunately, research shows that catching up on sleep is hard to do. Getting extra sleep can help you recover from a period of sleep loss. However, 1 to 2 nights of extended sleep may not be enough to restore your performance to normal levels.

As a result, you are likely to have ongoing symptoms of insufficient sleep. These include moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness and daytime sleepiness. Your performance at work can suffer, and you are more likely to make mistakes or be involved in an accident.

Getting less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis is detrimental to your health. Chronic insufficient sleep increases your risk of health problems, such as weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression.

“Getting less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis is detrimental to your health.”

Healthy habits to follow

Instead of trying to catch up on sleep during weekends and holidays, you should focus on preventing sleep loss. Make it one of your top health priorities to get the sleep that you need each night.

Start by going to bed early enough to get at least seven hours of nightly sleep. It also is helpful to give yourself a chance to unwind at night. Turn off your electronic devices and take some time to relax before bedtime. Make sure that your bedroom environment is quiet, dark and soothing.

If you get plenty of sleep but still feel tired or fatigued during the day, you may have a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea. Discuss your sleep with your doctor, who may refer you to a board-certified sleep medicine physician for help. A sleep specialist has the expertise to diagnose your sleep disorder and develop a treatment plan for you. You also can find help by contacting an accredited sleep disorders center. Stay ahead of sleep loss, instead of trying to catch up, by sleeping at least seven hours each night.