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Sleep Debt: Does a Little Less Shut-Eye Really Matter?

Does it really matter if you get slightly less sleep than needed each night? You may feel a little less energetic or maybe you feel no different at all with a little sleep deprivation, so how bad can it be? Or maybe you figure you’ll be able to sleep in and make up for it over the weekend – that seems like a good plan! Regardless of your situation, you may want to learn more about sleep debt and how it affects your health.

sleep debt

What is Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep we need and the amount we actually get each night. Let’s say the average person needs 8 hours of sleep each night. If you sleep for 6 hours on Monday night, you have a sleep debt of 2 hours. This number is cumulative, so if on Tuesday night you get another 6 hours, your sleep debt is now 4 hours. As you can see, even cutting your sleep short by 30 minutes each night can quickly add up.

After a couple nights, you may not notice too much of a difference. Most of us experience occasional sleeplessness or nights where it’s just not feasible to get a full 8 hours even if we wanted. That’s okay every now and then, but for those who regularly operate on inadequate sleep, the side effects are apparent. Many people can adapt to a lack of sleep. However, this can be very deceptive. Their bodies will no longer feel tired, but will still show signs of significant mental and physical decline.

sleep debt

How Sleep Debt Affects Daily Life

Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your mental abilities, emotional state, and overall health. With less sleep we tend to become moodier and more impatient. Plus, a lack of sleep can also:

  • Negatively affect short and long-term memory
  • Cause trouble concentrating
  • Weaken immunity
  • Decrease balance & coordination

How Sleep Debt Affects Athletic Performance

According to Runner’s World, “A lack of sleep could mess with protein synthesis, muscle recovery, immune system function, and modulation of your body’s inflammatory response – which can all lead to injury.” The underlying causes that make injuries more likely, also contribute to lowered performance. When your body isn’t in the correct state that allows it to operate efficiently, it leads to a lowered capacity to put out effort. Beyond the physical components, there also the mental abilities to take into consideration. With sleep debt, we aren’t fully there to give our best or push ourselves mentally when things get tough.

athletic performance

What to Do About It

Recovering from sleep debt isn’t as easy as just sleeping in for a morning or two. Sure, it can help. But it’s often not enough. Research shows that it can take up to 4 days to recover from the effects of 1 hour of lost sleep. While we may not feel tired the next day, there is a noticeable decrease in performance. Practicing good sleep hygiene is a great way to avoid sleep debt. Here are some tips to help:

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet
  • Physical activity can help, but don’t do it too close to bedtime or you’ll get the opposite effect
  • Try journaling before bed. If you tend to feel stressed or have a hard time putting thoughts out of mind in the middle of the night, journaling can help. Writing down your thoughts before bed helps get them out of your head and onto paper instead. If you’re stressed about what needs to get done the following day, write down a list of tasks and set priorities so you don’t have to worry about it throughout the night.
  • Set a pre bed routine that doesn’t include screen time. Whether that’s reading a book or journaling, doing activities that help calm the mind will help you unwind for the night. Another way many athletes relax before bed is by using Marc Pro. Not only does it help your muscles recover from the day, it also provides a rhythmic and relaxing experience prior to sleep.

sleep debt

Getting adequate sleep is one of the best ways to care for your body. Sleep debt can quickly become a problem and reversing it isn’t so easy. Make sure you put in the effort to achieve adequate sleep so you can perform at your best.