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Sleep Deprivation & Sleep Debt

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when you don’t get enough sleep. This can be for a short period, or over time.  

Imagine someone working long hours on a special project. They go to bed really late, and get up early in the morning.  Or a student might cram for an exam overnight.  Both examples are  sleep deprivation, even in that short amount of time!

Similarly, consider a 3rd shift worker who has trouble sleeping during daytime hours when everyone else around is awake.  Lack of sleep over this prolonged time is also sleep deprivation. (If that’s you, there’s good news! Helpful suggestions are coming up soon.)

Sleep Debt

Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation.

Your body is a bit like a sleep piggy bank.  You must deposit the right amount of sleep each night.  When you deprive yourself of sleep, you don’t put enough in the bank, and you have “sleep debt”.  

Here’s the real catch: You can’t pay back your debt with one big sleep-fest! If you only get 5 hours of sleep one night, instead of your normal 8 hours, you CAN’T make up for it with extra sleep the next night.  One night of 11 hours of sleep (8 hours + your missing 3 hours) will not pay back the debt. 

So if your work week is full of sleep deprivation, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t fulfill your body’s need. 

What to do?  

  • Try to maintain a regular schedule that includes 7-9 hours of sleep a night
  • Use the tips in the upcoming Put It Into Practice section for a great night’s sleep! 
  • Recognize that if you have sleep debt, it will take dedicated effort to repay your body over time. There are no quick fixes!