Sleep Debt: A Crucial Measure For Better Sleep is an essential book for anyone who struggles with sleep. It will show you how to make the most of your sleep life and get the rest that you deserve.
Most adults do not get enough sleep: Several American, European, and Asian studies reveal that one-third of the population does not get a restful sleep duration and quality.
In the United States, a staggering 70% of Americans identify as sleep deprived, and it’s likely that many more are and don’t realize it. Although we may feel like we’re getting by just fine 6 hours a night, our performance and health are suffering behind the scenes.
Sleep debt, simply defined, is the amount of sleep you owe your body in the last 14 days or so. It’s a running total of the hours of sleep you’ve missed, relative to the amount of sleep your body needs to function optimally. So if you slept perfectly every night (a wish for most of us!), you wouldn’t have any sleep debt.
To understand sleep debt, you first have to understand that each person has a unique sleep need, which is the biologically determined number of hours you need to sleep each night to feel your best during the day.
For the vast majority of adults, this number ranges from 7 to 9 hours, with an average of just over 8 hours. (There are exceptions, but they are incredibly rare. I’d rather be struck by lightning than have the gene for less than seven hours of sleep per night.)
A big factor at play is that most humans find it difficult to figure out their need for sleep on their own. In reality, we are evolutionarily primed to acclimate to our own tiredness over time, which means we can’t use our level of tiredness to tell if we’re getting enough sleep.
Why do we sleep so little?
Some more reasons why many of us get little sleep:
- Low cultural value: Sleep is woefully undervalued in our culture, especially in the workplace. There is a subtle peer pressure to get little sleep, which most of us experience in our day-to-day lives. It makes us feel that sleeping long and deeply is a sign of weakness or demotivation.
- The Caffeine Myth: We have tools like coffee and energy drinks that trick us into thinking we can get by on less sleep when the truth is that caffeine only serves to temporarily mask feelings of tiredness and does nothing to actually reduce your body’s need for sleep.
- Optimism in sleep: Although we have an accurate idea of our sleep needs, studies show that we tend to overestimate the amount of time we spend in bed.
- You accumulate debt over time: How you feel now is not just the result of last night’s sleep, but the result of the previous two weeks of sleep. This means that one night won’t mess you up in the long run, but it won’t fix it either.
The real benefits will come from managing your sleep debt over time with a consistent schedule to meet your need for sleep.
How to catch up on sleep
Sleep debt can be undone, thereby reversing the negative effects.
In one study, participants who slept only 4.5 hours a week experienced dramatic improvements in cognitive performance and mood after being given two nights of full restorative sleep.
All people need a certain amount of consistent sleep to perform optimally. Getting a certain amount of quality sleep is easy if you stick to the following habits:
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable
- Reduce blue light at least an hour before bed
- Get enough sunlight and exercise daily
However, you don’t always need to be at your best. There are times when it will make sense to lose some sleep.
The important thing is to be aware of your current dream debt in order to make informed decisions. In general, the less sleep debt you have, the less a night or two of poor sleep from time to time will hurt you.