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What Is Sleep Debt and How Can You Recover From It?

While we may not know the reason why you’re losing sleep at night, there are hundreds of thousands of others who also don’t get the proper eight hours of sleep.

In fact, nearly 33 percent of adults who work report that they are only sleeping six or fewer hours of sleep at night according to the CDC.

And it’s not just our moods that suffer from the lack there of explained in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s 2021 position statement.

Not enough sleep can invite the increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer says the AASM.

What is Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt, which means the accumulation of the loss of sleep is critical to be cognizant of especially if you’re not getting the hours you need for your body to rest at night.

According to Dr. Sanford Auerbach, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University’s School of Medicine notes that the average adult should be sleeping between seven to nine hours every night.

“So if you’re supposed to get seven hours of sleep, and you only get five, that can lead to a debt of two hours,” Auerbach explains to Yahoo Life. When that happens, “you don’t function quite as well the next day, and it accumulates over time,” as do negative impacts on cognitive function, such as “slower reaction times” to daily tasks.

Dr. Auerbach

Dr. Rachel Salas, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine told Yahoo Life that sleep debt is “more complex” than what people might think and that the quality of sleep, is just as and even more important than the amount of hours we’re actually sleeping.

“Of course, everyone thinks they’re special, like, ‘I only need five hours or six hours,’ but some people are just better at compensating than others,” Salas explains to Yahoo Life. Plus, it’s less about the amount of time we sleep and more about the quality of sleep we’re getting.

Dr. Salas

Factors such as “inconsistent wake times and bedtimes” can negatively impact your sleep as well as increase sleep debt too, Dr. Salas adds to Yahoo Life.

Napping can also be a cause for concern and here’s why.

An easy rule to remember is to cut naps off at 30 minutes and to stop napping past 3pm Dr. Salas says to Yahoo Life.

For those who have underlining issues and don’t know it, such as sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, or menopause can all affect the quality of sleep as well, which is why it’s important to reach out to a doctor if you notice that something is wrong explains Dr. Salas tells to Yahoo Life.

Stress, which can be one of the most obvious underlining factors can also be disrupting the quality of your sleep, Dr. Auerbach adds explaining to Yahoo Life.

“It’s a matter of effective stress management,” Dr. Auerbach tells Yahoo Life, as a general rule of thumb to getting good sleep. “Insomnia, particularly, is related to stress in many, many ways.”

Dr. Auerbach

How Can You Recover From “Sleep Debt”?

Catching up on sleep for short term periods of time is much easier versus long term.

“If you had an all-nighter or you’re somebody who had a long shift, or just have something major going on in your life and you did not get any sleep, you can acutely make that up in the next day or two,” Dr. Salas explains to Yahoo Life. “You can oversleep, or stay in and sleep, and you’re going to be able to pay some of that [sleep debt] back. But chronically? No.”

Dr. Salas

Dr. Salas explains further,

“If you’ve been chronically sleep deprived for weeks, years, months, there’s nothing you’re going to do [to pay back sleep debt],” adding: “I can’t say, ‘You’re this much sleep deprived, so here’s what you have to do to pay all that back. And all of that time and all that risk that was associated with your poor sleep, it’s all going to be taken away, because now you’ve paid it back.’ That does not happen, according to Dr. Salas who explained to Yahoo Life.

Dr. Salas

Although don’t panic just yet.

Keep in mind that naps can be a huge helping hand to feeling more rested, as can making lifestyle changes to prioritize your sleep moving forward can also help your sleeping problem.

Dr. Auerbach mentions to Yahoo Life that at the end of the day, the only way to fix a sleeping issue is to take it night by night and to make sure that the bed you sleep in, is cozy and comfortable.

Having a positive mindset is also a great step forward for better sleep, notes Dr. Salvas to Yahoo Life!