People need about 7.1 hours of sleep a night. If you’re waking up more tired than usual, you might not be getting enough sleep. Over a long period of time, sleep deprivation can add up and take a toll. If you accumulate a huge deficit of sleep, you could be seeing how it negatively impacts your health.
What is a “sleep debt”?
At PAQ, we look at sleep as your body’s need for a certain level of physical and mental recovery. Sleep is important after experiencing partial or chronic sleep deprivation.
Sleep debt describes exactly what it sounds like. It’s the deficit amount of sleep you should be getting compared to the amount you’re actually getting. If you’re staying up too late, or constantly losing hours of sleep over time, the deficit grows as you accumulate more sleep loss.
As the term implies, your debt could grow if you’re not getting the amount of sleep you need. While this isn’t completely accurate, it’s still true that the body tries to make up for a lack of sleep. This is especially if it persists after a long period of time.
For these reasons, getting sufficient sleep is one of the most important parts of maintaining good sleep health. With chronic sleep deprivation, it’s important to try to address the issue before it gets worse.
Sleep deprivation can make your “sleep debt” worse.
A lack of sleep can be harmful to you and even to others. Sleep deprivation is an acknowledged public health issue, as many automobile accidents and injuries can be attributed to fatigue or impairment.
Sleep deprivation can be a beast because you can feel the negative effects fairly quickly. Numerous findings support that even short-term sleep deprivation impairs attention and memory and your cognitive functions. Even minor bouts of sleep deprivation can have an effect. Short-term lack of sleep can cause you to feel fatigued, impairing your cognitive performance and functioning. It can impair your decision-making as well as contribute to a foggy brain, affect your vision, and make you feel groggy throughout the day. A study found that in healthy adults, short-term sleep disruption increased stress, emotional distress, and cognitive and memory deficits.
In the long term, sleep deprivation is more severe. Chronic lack of sleep is attributed to a number of health risks, including heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance, and more.
A different study compared the effects of sleep deprivation between male and females. Both felt increased sleepiness and decreased vigilance. However, males tended to make riskier decisions after sleep loss, while females displayed “greater egoism” in economic behavior. The study found that sleep loss had an impact on decision-making, albeit in different ways.
Is sleep debt real?
The term “sleep debt” itself can have different implications, but the physiological and mental effects over time is seen in many studies, tests, and experiences.
Physically, your body will feel the lack of sleep which effects your cognitive performance like attention and working memory. Moreover, sleep deprivation seems to affect your attention and ability to be vigilant, which could be attributed to exhaustion.
In one study, they found that many adults didn’t even realize that they were experiencing sleep loss. But they still rebounded, sleeping more than usual to recover from the partial loss. This is a small example of how sleep deprivation can lead to needing to recover from a lack of sleep.
On the other side, there’s also the mental and emotional recovery needed for a sleep debt. Chronic lack of sleep affects not only your cognitive functions; they influence your overall health, hormone production, and your mood. A study found that resolving partial sleep deprivation improved mood regulation in healthy adults. This finding could suggest that sleep extension after sleep restriction does cause some improvement. It supports the idea of some kind of “deficiency” after severe or chronic lack of sleep.
Can you repay sleep debt?
At PAQ, we know that sleep needs are independent and sleepiness can be subjective. However it’s certain that everyone needs enough sleep and a deficiency can have adverse effects.
It’s possible to “repay” a personal sleep deficit. Getting enough sleep over time to alleviate any deficit is easy in increments, although more long-term debt may take longer to adjust your body’s schedule.
- Start a consistent sleep schedule; it’s important to keep a regular bedtime and wake up schedule. An irregular bedtime was shown to be linked to poorer sleep quality and insufficient sleep.
- If you’ve been accustomed to not getting enough sleep, try to add on 15 extra minutes of sleep every night until you reach the amount of sleep you desire per night.
- Try not to oversleep. Oversleeping can still misalign your sleep-wake cycle and cause you to feel prolonged wakefulness
Tips to deal with chronic sleep deprivation
Your health suffers if you are experiencing a great lack of sleep without making time to recover. There could be a number of reasons for being sleep deprived.
Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, with at least a third of the adult population who suffer from at least mild sleep insomnia. While insomnia describes someone who is experiencing difficult staying or falling asleep, the reasons for having it could still be different for people.
The main problem is that insomnia can prevent you from getting restorative sleep that would otherwise relieve you of experiencing negative effects of sleep deprivation.
Some tips we have with dealing with potential factors that might influence sleep deprivation:
- Create a good sleep environment; make sure your room is dark and quiet. It’s also important to try to avoid using bright screens close to bedtime as blue light can keep you awake.
- Try to avoid naps later at night. Doing so could affect your sleep schedule.
- Avoid caffeine later during the day or evening, or any stimulants.
- If you’re experiencing more severe sleep loss or the negative effects, you may want to consult your physician to assess whether you have a sleep disorder, or if there are other things you can try to help you sleep.
In short, sleep debt is not the end of the world if you take care of your sleep health.
While long-term effects of chronic sleep loss and deprivation will take its toll on your health, it is never too late to make improvements to your sleep behavior. Sleep is important for health, in assisting the body’s recovery of metabolic and homeostatic functions. In order to go about your day feeling well-rested and energized, prioritize your sleep as one of the foundations to protecting your health.
Waking up feeling well-rested is one of best ways to avoid sleep issues, and the easiest way to do that is coming soon.