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What Is Sleep Debt?

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Updated March 04, 2013

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Question: What Is Sleep Debt?
What is sleep debt? Can sleep deprivation or other sleep disorders contribute to an accumulated sleep debt? What can you do to pay off your sleep debt?
Answer:

Sleep debt is the accumulated amount of sleep loss from insufficient sleep, regardless of cause. If you simply choose to restrict the amount of sleep that you get, this could be one potential cause. This will gradually lead to sleep deprivation. If you have a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or circadian rhythm sleep disorders, this could likewise lead to a sleep debt.

The curious thing is that with sleep, you can only pay off a recent debt. For example, if you have not slept well over the past year you are not able to pay back the sleep that you’ve missed over that time. Rather, you can only get extra sleep to attempt to make up for the recent time that you lost.

You might think that with the passage of time, your debts are completely forgiven and forgotten, but in the context of sleep debt, this is not so. There are serious consequences to chronic sleep deprivation, including obesity and heart disease. That's why it's important to meet your sleep needs every day by following better sleep guidelines so that you might preserve your health and well-being.

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