What is Sleep Debt?
A “sleep debt” is a common term that you have probably heard that refers the amount of sleep you get that is less than the amount of optimal sleep you need. The way we generally understand it is that over time, a “debt” forms where you need to “catch up” on sleep to be healthy again.
To put it a different way:
- Your body requires a certain about of sleep, which is different depending on your age
- As you get less sleep than required, you become sleep deprived
- This sleep deprivation causes a “debt” which you have to “pay” by sleeping more than the required amount
Sleep debts are extremely important to correctly understand, because there are common misconception about what a sleep debt is and how you “repay” it. Most people are under the false assumption that they can “repay” their sleep debt much like you repay any monetary debt: in large sums. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way.
What is Binge Sleeping?
Here’s a common scenario.
- During the week you stay
- You get up early for work or school, maybe only getting about five hours of sleep
- You’re not worried – you can “make up” this sleep on the weekend
- Then on the weekend, you sleep in an extra couple of hours each day - that should make you sleep better right?
This is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about making up sleep: that you can binge sleep and wipe out your sleep debt.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Commonly expected ranges of sleep we need are [National Sleep Foundation]:
- <1 year: 12-17 hours per day (more sleep for newborns than toddlers)
- 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
- 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
- 6-13 hours: 9-11 hours
- 14-17 hours: 8-10 hours
- 18-65: 7-9 hours
- 65+: 7-8 hours
Of course, we are all individuals and your sleep requirements may differ from these. These are simply some guidelines.
How to Repay Your Sleep Debt
The word debt is misleading because your sleep debt doesn’t work like money – you can’t just pay your debt back in a lump sum. Here’s an example of how this DOESN’T work:
- You require 7 hours of sleep to get full rest
- Monday through Friday you get 6 hours of sleep per night, for an effective “debt” of 5 hours
- On Friday night and Saturday night, you sleep an extra few hours
Sleep studies show that getting one or two long nights of sleep do not remove the effects of sleep deprivation. You might feel good for the hours proceeding a long night of rest, but the effects of sleep deprivation will persist.
The actual way you repay your sleep debt is by establishing a healthy pattern of sleep over time. In the same scenario above, what you would want to do to repay your sleep debt is:
- Get extra sleep on the weekend
- Get enough or a little bit of extra sleep every day the following week
Repaying sleep debt involves consistent, restful sleep until the effects of sleep deprivation are gone..
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation causes lower performance physically, emotionally, and mentally. Some specific effects are:
- Lower sex drive
- Less able to manage stress and anxiety
- Less likely to get requisite exercise due to fatigue
- Underperform at work, school, etc.
- Chronic irritability that can interfere with relationships
- Less engagement in activities
- More brain fog and general apathy
- The emotional impact of general inactivity due to fatigue
In short, chronic sleep deprivation can make you feel “abnormal,” less like yourself, a “worse” version of your normal self, and so on. Over time, these feelings and physical symptoms of sleep deprivation can weigh on our emotional and physical vitality. Alone or compounded with other symptoms, this can lead to depression.
Sleeping Disorder that Cause Sleep Deprivation
Sleeping disorders can lead to sleep deprivation if not treated. Some of the most common sleep disorders that generally result in chronic and sometimes severe sleep deprivation are:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Circadian rhythm disorders
If you are struggling with chronic sleep deprivation, please contact us or take a free online sleep test.