If you’ve read any of our other articles on sleep deprivation, you already have a pretty good grounding of what sleep deprivation is.(If you haven’t you can check them out here and here.) This article is the natural progression and goes on to further explain how sleep deprivation leads to sleep debt, and how to get out of it.
What is sleep debt?
Sleep debt is the aggregate effect of not getting enough sleep. The more sleep you miss, the larger your sleep debt is. For example, if you need nine hours of sleep to feel rested and refreshed, but only get six hours of sleep, your sleep debt would be three hours.
The long-term effects of sleep debt.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of sleep to your overall health and well-being. Not only does sleep make you feel rested and refreshed, it comes with a number of health benefits. It reduces your risk of developing long-term health issues, such as heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Sleep can also improve your cognitive functions and boost your mood. According to one study, it may even promote longevity and reduce your risk of premature death.
Aside from the immediate effects related to a lack of sleep, there are dozens of far-reaching consequences of prolonged sleep deprivation. Your inability to concentrate and focus could lead to an accident while driving or hinder your ability to perform your job. Your irritability and mood swings may affect your relationships with those around you. Sleep deprivation can cause fluctuations in your weight, due to changes in your appetite, judgment, and impulse control. Chronic sleep loss can cause your skin to age more quickly and lead to dull skin, fine lines, and dark circles under your eyes.
It’s important to take your sleep as seriously as you would other aspects of your health. People may have a tendency to popularize sleep deprivationin the name of dedication, commitment, or hard work—hustle culture has had a big impact on this generation’s perception of sleep. But by restricting your sleep, really all you’re doing is depriving your body of what it needs to survive.
Repaying sleep debt
Although you can repay your sleep debt, you shouldn’t treat it like a bank account that you can make withdrawals and deposits from by staying up late and napping. It’s easiest to pay back your short-term sleep debt. You can pay back your three hours of sleep debt by adding an extra hour of rest to the three following nights.
Repaying long-term sleep debt is a little more complicated, and if you live in a sleep deficit for a prolonged period, there are dangers of long-term, irreversible symptoms. Try to take some time off from your obligations and allow yourself to sleep for as long as you need to each night. You may sleep much longer than usual at first, but, as you begin to repay your debt, your body will adjust to the amount of sleep it needs. Once it’s‘repaid’, do your best not to fall back into sleep debt.
Check out our sleep hacker series, Turndown Service, for more on sleep improvements and sleep hygiene.