Alaska Sleep Education Center

What Is Sleep Debt? Can You Catch Up On Lost Sleep?

Posted by Laci Michaud on Oct 20, 2015 10:04:10 AM

what are the consequences of sleep debt

Everyone knows that adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per day. So, what happens when you don’t make your sleep quota for the day and routinely lose sleep? These lost sleep hours accumulate and are known as your sleep debt. It's a deficit that grows every time we skim some extra minutes off our nightly slumber.

We all know that life happens and people get busy. Between work obligations, school, after school activities, social functions, and more, it's easy to lose sleep during the midweek with so many things going on.


How to calculate your sleep debt?

Let’s take a look at how sleep debt is calculated:

 Research suggests adults should be receiving approximately 8 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, most adults are only receiving approximately 6 hours of sleep each night. When you take the hours of sleep you should be receiving (8) and subtract the amount of sleep you’re actually getting (6), you’ll get your sleep debt number for one night (2).

Over the course of a week, that is a sleep debt of 14 hours. Decrease your sleeping to 5 hours per night for a week and that’s a sleep debt of 21 hours!

  what is sleep debt: infographic

How does chronic sleep debt affect you?

Chronic sleep debt can lead to a slew of medical problems and other daily life interferences.

Sleepiness Causes Accidents - Staying up for 24 hours straight and then getting behind the wheel is like driving with a blood-alcohol content that deems you legally drunk in all 50 states.

Lack of Sleep Kills Sex Drive - According to researchers at the University of Chicago, those who sleep for less than five hours a night for periods of longer than a week have significantly lower levels of testosterone than those who received a full night's rest. It was also found that testosterone levels were significantly reduced after just one week of sleep deprivation.

Beauty rest is real; Lack of Sleep Ages Your Skin – According to Dr Elma Baron “…inadequate sleep is correlated with reduced skin health and accelerates skin aging. Sleep deprived women show signs of premature skin aging and a decrease in their skin's ability to recover after sun exposure.”

Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight - Cross-sectional studies from around the world show a consistent increased risk of obesity among short sleepers in children and adults.

Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Serious Health Issues 

  • Sleep apnea and heart diseaseHeart Disease

  • Heart Attack

  • Hear Failure

  • Irregular Heartbeat

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Stroke

  • Diabetes

  • and more


Can you repay your sleep debt?

Sleeping on a consistent schedule of 7-9 hours a night both during the midweek and on the weekend is your best way to make-up for sleep debt. Repaying short-term sleep debt as soon as possible is important to avoid falling into long-term sleep debt. For recovery sleep, both the hours slept and the intensity of the sleep are important.  Below are guidelines of how to dig yourself out of sleep debt.

Settle short-term debt. If you missed 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week. This will help repay your sleep debt.

Even going to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night may help. Stick to a regular sleep and wake schedule, avoid caffeine and alcohol, exercise daily, maintain good sleep hygiene, and relax before bed with a hot bath or a good book instead of electronics (which can disrupt sleep). A daytime nap may also help you catch up, if it’s possible for you to take one regularly.

Address a long-term debt. Plan a vacation, or even a “stay-cation”, with a light schedule and few obligations. Then turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you awake naturally.

Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Once you’ve determined how much sleep you really need, factor it into your daily schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays. As you erase sleep debt, your body will come to rest at a sleep pattern that is specifically right for you. 

A lot of serious consequences can directly be contributed to a lack of sleep. Getting help for any sleep problems is vital to one's overall health.

If you're an Alaskan and are experiencing chronic loss of sleep and/or sleep debt, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic and receive a free 10-minute phone call with a sleep educator. In this phone call we can help determine if a sleep study at one of our 4 locations may be appropriate in diagnosing and treating your condition. Don't let poor sleep get in the way of you and success at work and your personal life, contact us today.

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