Are You in (Sleep) Debt?

Sleep Debt - BLOG

Out of all things I aspired to be as a little girl, ‘in debt’ is not one of them. And no, I’m not talking about financial debt – although I don’t want to be in that situation either. I am talking about sleep debt. Did you know that was a thing? I just learned about it a few months ago, and now I am over cautious about when I get to bed and when I wake up. Sleep debt is a real thing and it can impact your health severely.


So, first things first, let’s actually talk about what sleep debt is. According to the sleep association, sleep debt “describes the cumulative effect of a person not having sufficient sleep.” In plain English, that translates to the number of days you can function without the proper amount of sleep. To accurately calculate your sleep debt, you are going to need a lot of time –at least a year. You are going to take the number of hours of sleep you should be getting (for adults that ranges from 7-9 hours), and subtract if from the number of hours of sleep you are actually getting. Keep track of this for 365 days, and at the end of that time frame you will figure out what your sleep debt is. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it is estimated that about 1 in 3 Americans are in sleep debt.

There has been research conducted on the dangers of sleep debt, and while the majority of scientists agree that sleep debt can be dangerous, there are a few that do not believe in that conjecture. Jim Horne of Loughborough University is one scientist that does not agree with this assumption. He believes that there are different factors that come into play in regards to sleep. Factors such as the weather and seasons play an important role when it comes to the amount of sleep a person gets. Take for example (from people living in northern climates where it is cold and  has less light during the winter months tend to sleep for longer periods of time, but their body and internal clocks adjust when summer rolls around because of the warmer weather and increase in the hours of sunlight.

His logic sounds legitimate – just from my own person experience – however I do think there are some serious risks when it comes to sleep debt. When I don’t get enough sleep I am extremely grumpy, much more irritable than usual, I can’t seem to think straight, and I am just all around not a pleasant person. When I ‘feel this type of way’ I am no good to anyone – not my family, not my friends, and definitely not at work, so I do my best to ensure that I get a good amount of sleep every night to ensure that I am not negatively impacted the next day.


According to, “many experts believe that chronic, long-term sleep deprivation is a public health problem with dire economic and social consequences. Research shows that accumulated sleep loss negatively impacts mood and cognitive performance. In addition to these deficits in mental health and performance, ongoing sleep deprivation is linked to an increase risk for cardiovascular and metabolic illness, driving accidents, and fatigue. Sleep debt has been shown to cause death in lad studies on animals, and rarely, people die form lack of sleep.”

And according to, “a critical stage of sleep, REM, can be compromised for the sleep deprived… REM is so important that, if a person is deprived of several nights of it – then is give then opportunity to re-engage in REM – they will encounter long phases of ‘REM rebound’ as the brain resets and clean up.” Unless we’re playing basketball, we want to avoid any and all kinds of rebounds!

Now that we know that this a serious problem, I would hope the next question would be – is there a way to repay or get out of debt? The answer is yes! The first step is figuring out how much sleep you need in order to function and feel rested. Once you have that established, create a schedule of when you should be going to bed and when you need to wake up – and stick to it! You do not want to accumulate any more debt! If you think that you missed out on a few hours of sleep during the week, and you can make it up over the weekend, then you, my friends, are mistaken.


Say you are short three hours of sleep through the week. You are not going to want to sleep an extra three hours on Saturday or Sunday morning. According to, “excessive oversleeping messes with circadian rhythms in a way that leads to ‘Monday morning hangover’ or ‘social jet lack.’ But sleeping on extra hour on both Saturday and Sunday can help your benefit from one more REM cycle. Also, going to bed a little earlier or taking a nap can help.” Keep in mind, though – you are not going to want to take an extremely long nap (I would recommend about 20 -30 minutes at the most), and you are not going to want to nap close to your designated bedtime.

Finally, if you believe that you have sleep debt, and have tried every trick we just discussed then the best solution would be speaking with your doctor. You might be suffering from a more serious issue, like a sleep disorder. We know how important and how vital our sleep is to us, so why should we hold out on such a precious commodity?

For more information on sleep debt, please see the following:

For more information on sleep apnea (a sleep disorder), please see:

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