Sleep Debt: Everyone Pays Sooner or Later

Understanding the Concept of Sleep Debt

In our communities today, it is common to find many people suffering from sleep debt or sleep deficit, which develops unnoticed, over a period. Sleep debt is defined as a deficit in the amount of sleep you get on a daily basis as against that which is required by your body to carry out your daily activities optimally. The accumulation of the number of sleeping hours lost to carrying out other activities is what makes up your sleep debt.

Research findings tend to support that the average number of hours an adult requires to sleep daily is eight; teenagers need nine to 10 hours per day. So, an adult who sleeps for just 5 hours per day, instead of the required eight has a sleep debt of three hours per day and 21 hours per week.

There are two types of sleep debt. Total Sleep Debt occurs when one is deprived of sleep for 24 hours by staying awake while partial sleep debt happens when one catches a limited amount of sleep for days or weeks against the required sleeping hours.

Causes of Sleep Debt

In an academic environment, several predisposing factors can contribute to your accumulation of sleep debts. They could include but are not limited to the following:

Academic pressures: It is not uncommon for students to defy their beds for books in a bid to meet up with the academic standard(s) they set or is required of them. So, after attending lectures during the day, they maximize their free time and night for assignments, projects, group work, discussions, and reading, but spare only a few hours to sleep (most times less than the required eight hours of sleep).

Work Tension: This is quite applicable to some staff members and students. Each work comes with its unique stressors and demands to be met. For instance, employees engaged in academic work might need to do some extra work at home or read during the night to meet his/her work demands. Others double as students and will need to meet both requirements. These workers are quite prone to accumulating sleep debt.

Social Media: For those who cannot help but use social media as a means of relaxation before sleep, this habit can accrue sleep debts, particularly when they become so engrossed in it. After endless hours surfing through the internet, you only find out that some of the valuable time that could have been invested in sleep to refresh your brain was lost to social media.


Effects of Sleep Debt

  •    Severe, one-sided headache (a migraine)
  •    Increase in blood pressure (hypertension)
  •    Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness with excessive yawning (malaise)
  •    Decrease in the brain’s productivity due to overtaxing characterized by a decrease in concentration, mild forgetfulness, head or eye pain (brain fag)
  •    Increase in the aging process and a decrease in beauty
  •    Others include accident, heart attack, a decrease in sexual drive, obesity, and weight loss


Repaying Your Sleep Debt

Though it is not out rightly possible to repay all your sleep debt at once, yet it can be compensated in bits by increasing the number of hours you sleep gradually, until you pay up. The following tips may be helpful:

  •    Include a regular sleeping and waking up time (of not less than eight hours in your daily schedule.
  •    Avoid the use of caffeine to stay awake, especially at night.
  •    Sleep in a conducive environment when you feel tired.
  •    Extend your hours of sleep on weekends (if you are off-work), without using alarms.
  •    Sleep without your phones or anything that can distract your sleeping hours.
  •    Taking a nap of about 15 -20 minutes in the afternoon (only if allowed) can be very helpful to re-boost your work output.

On a final note, it is better to pay your sleep debt while it is in its short-term, rather than accumulating it on a long-term basis, when your body will make it compulsory for you to pay when it comes down with severe illness due to sleep deprivation. And you do not want that, right? So, start paying yours today!

For more information and counseling, visit us at AUN Health Center or write us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.