Sleep debt: dangers of falling behind on sleep (and how to catch up)

"Sleep debt" refers to missing out on your optimal amount of sleep for multiple nights in a row. Could this be why you're so tired?

Sleep debt: dangers of falling behind on sleep (and how to catch up)

"Sleep debt" refers to missing out on your optimal amount of sleep for multiple nights in a row. Whether you've lost sleep due to insomnia, overwork, jet lag or stress, paying back the sleep debt is crucial to restoring physical and emotional well-being. Getting back on track with consistent, healthy sleep patterns is even more important.

Current research shows that human beings have a maximum sleep debt threshold of around 20 hours, and that any sleep debt you incur is best "paid back" in one to two-hour increments per night. Most people need around seven to eight hours of sleep per night, with some needing just six, and others needing as many as 10 hours per night.

The effects of sleep debt

A lack of sleep is linked to numerous health issues, including a compromised immune system and a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart issues, diabetes and stroke. Not enough sleep can also contribute to depression, weight gain, forgetfulness, impaired judgement and premature aging.

Paying back a sleep debt

What's the best way to pay back a sleep debt? It's a fairly straightforward process centred around gaining an extra one to two hours of sleep per night until the debt is paid in full.

Start by calculating the number of sleep hours you are short. They may have occurred over just a night or two (that all-nighter for a school project, or the red-eye flight you took seated next to a chatty passenger), or they may have accumulated over a week or more due to broken sleep patterns caused by insomnia, stress, or any number of other reasons.

Let's say you're dealing with a sleep debt of 10 hours and it's a Sunday night. One way to catch up would be to sleep an extra two hours per night Sunday through Thursday night that week. Another approach would be to sleep one extra hour Sunday through Wednesday night, and then get two hours per night each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night as the weekend commences.

Getting enough sleep consistently

If you're dealing with a long-term sleep debt that's hard to calculate, you might consider taking a vacation and focusing on getting extra deep, restful sleep each night to compensate for your losses.

Most importantly, commit to getting more consistent sleep on a nightly basis going forward. Sleep is crucial to our health and quality of life, so strive to view sleep not as a luxury, but as a necessity and a cornerstone of happiness and well-being.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu