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How Much Sleep Debt Do You Own?

Being in debt can be stressful to your overall health. Stresses over finances can make it more difficult for you to save or budget. When we are in a financial struggle, it puts a cognitive tax on us. We hyperfocus on the problem until we can find a solution; however, when our debt problem doesn't end, our mind continues to churn away at the problem thus depleting us mentally and emotionally. We then may progress to feeling like it is impossible for our situation to get better. Digging yourself out of debt can help boost your mental and physical health. Having more income freed up from debt helps improve our financial confidence, our moral, and opens us up to better opportunities to save and invest in our futures. But wait a minute, you might be saying as you recheck the title, I thought today's article was about sleep. And you are absolutely right; it is about sleep and the insidious nature of sleep deprivation and the debt that is racked up upon our bodies.

When it comes to sleep, 4 + 4 does not equal 8. Meaning, we cannot get four hours of sleep, stay up for half an hour to an hour, and then return to sleep for four more hours and count it as eight hours of sleep. When we sleep, our bodies go through different stages of sleep in a particular repetitive pattern. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep we dream. However, it is also during this time that our memories are consolidated and our neurotransmitters are replenished. REM sleep occurs later during our sleep cycle with the phases of REM becoming more frequent at the end of the sleep period. What we do not realize is that a long period of sleep is required for our bodies to get into these stages of REM sleep. Therefore, in our 4 + 4 example, our body doesn't just pick back up where it was in the sleep cycle; the sleep cycle starts over from the beginning, thus taking more hours to get through an entire sleep period. To illustrate this point, it's not like when we are binge watching a series on Netflix and we pick back up on the last episode we left off at; instead, we have to start the series over all the way from the beginning.

Sleep debt occurs when we have not been getting as much sleep as we need and the total hours of sleep missed start accumulating. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Each night that we miss an hour or so of sleep, our sleep debt grows. So even if I get enough sleep on Sunday night prior to my workday on Monday, I may still awaken feeling sleepy or irritable on Monday morning due to the accumulated sleep debt from Friday and Saturday nights.

When we shortchange sleep, we put ourselves at increased risk of other health issues. Poor sleep has detrimental effects on our brains. When we don't get enough sleep, we tend to have difficulties with concentrating, learning and memory, reacting, making decisions, solving problems, managing emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Quality sleep helps our bodies be able to more efficiently heal and repair heart and blood vessels, balance hormones that make us feel hungry or full, help how our bodies reacts to insulin, and helps our bodies fight germs and sickness. However, these processes cannot happen if we are accumulating sleep debt, and our poor sleep leads to poorer health overall. If we have an anxiety disorder, the effects of sleep debt are compounded.

What to do if this is you? Do not go it alone. Make sure you make your medical care provider aware of this issue so that necessary blood work and/or sleep studies can be arranged to make sure that there is not an underlying physiological cause for your poor sleep pattern. Rule this out first, always! Below are 8 additional tips you can try.

Head to bed at the same time every night

​Implement a sleep ritual to help your body relax (meditation, journaling, warm bath)

​Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and spicy and fried foods 2 to 4 hours before bed

​Lower the temperature of your room to about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit

​Make sure your room is dark

​Eliminate light stimulation (TVs, phones, tablets) about an hour before bed

​Use earplugs if you are surrounded by bothersome noises

Use your bed primarily for sleep (sex is okay but no reading or watching TV in bed)

Often the first thing disregarded, sleep is such an instrumental piece to our wellbeing puzzle. It is so easy to become indebted to sleep deprivation. I hope this article has shown you that much like financial debt, sleep debt also carries a heavy toll on our minds and bodies. If you are struggling in this department, please do not overlook or write it off. If you have been around for a while, you might notice that this article is similar in theme to our "7 Tweaks to Your Habits for Better Sleep." This is intentional. This past week, I have found myself both in my capacity as therapist and friend, speaking on the evils of sleep deprivation. It is a pandemic in and of itself that we are not talking about nearly as often as we should. When I learn new information, I always deem it both a duty and a privilege to bring that knowledge to my readers. You cannot shortchange sleep. The debt price is too high. It's difficult but change is possible. If you are committed to paying off you sleep debt starting now, please share in the comments below. Your words may help motivate and inspire your fellow readers far better than I can. As always, please remember as you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading and a good night's rest to you.

"Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now." ~Audre Lorde

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