HIGH Interest Charges on Sleep Debt

You don’t wanna’ have to pay
the interest on Sleep Debt!

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Another article in the Sleep Series

According to the authors of the website Talk About Sleep:

BigYawn“At least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.

These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving, and social activities.

They also account for an estimated $16 BILLION in medical costs each year, while the indirect costs due to lost productivity and other factors are probably much greater.”

They go on to say that “the most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy,” which is an indication of how LITTLE research has been done on chronorhythm disorders.

But you don’t have to have a diagnostic sleep disorder of any kind to experience the negative effects of sleep debt. In fact, most of us in industrialized society are chronically under-slept, which means that most of us have racked up sleep debt to a significant degree.

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What IS Sleep Debt?

dr-dementAccording to “the father of sleep medicine,” Dr. William Dement, sleep debt is created whenever your personal sleep requirements aren’t adequately met — for whatever reason, no matter who you are, and no matter how little (or how much) sleep you require to function optimally.

Accumulating sleep debt becomes likely if you are a shift worker, an overworked executive or sales manager, a student or medical resident “burning the candle at both ends,” the parent of a new baby — or anybody ELSE in our crazy-busy, 24/7 modern world.

Most people think that sleep debt is the result of sleep deprivation over time — when an individual doesn’t get the amount of restorative sleep needed to promote the sense of feeling well-rested and refreshed on awakening, able to easily maintain alertness throughout the following day repeatedly.


  • Sleep dept begins to accumulate with the very first night you don’t get the amount of the restorative sleep you need to maintain a sense of feeling rested and refreshed.
  • Since the amount of sleep you need the following night increases by more than the amount of sleep you missed, sleep debt accumulates as time goes by, builds quickly, and does not decrease until the debt is repaid.

Repaying that debt requires additional sleep – over and above your usual requirements.

blackANDwhiteZsThe homeostatic drive to sleep

Most of us tempt fate, pushing our sleepiness boundaries further than makes good sense.

Thank goodness the relationship between the drive to stay awake and the drive to fall asleep keeps many of us from becoming our own worst enemies where sleep is concerned.

Without substances that interfere with the process, our bodies help “keep us honest” early enough in the process to avoid serious consequences.

  • They react to a lack of sleep with daytime drowsiness that intensifies each day sleep debt builds, prompting an almost overwhelming desire to go to bed early or or remain in bed longer the next day.
  • That homeostatic relationship between wakefulness and sleep discourages the “sleep-normal” among us from becoming dangerously sleep deprived — the same “checks and balances” system that facilitates the maintenance of the internal stability of many of our other bodily processes.

As I said in Owls, Larks and Camels, referencing the early work of William C. Dement, there are two opposing “driving forces” in the human body – one to remain alert and awake (“clock dependent alerting”), and the other to wind down and sleep (“the homeostatic drive toward sleep”).

The drive for sleep increases every single hour you are awake. A “sleep-normal” individual is able to remain awake and alert throughout the day only because of the counteraction of “clock dependent alerting” on “the homeostatic drive toward sleep.”

When your body is chronologically balanced, the two processes operate in a manner rather like a see-saw: as one goes up, the other goes down.

Physical and cognitive problems begin to rear their ugly heads whenever we don’t get enough sleep — even over a relatively short period of time — UNLESS we make it a point to “repay” our sleep debt.

The see-saw become increasingly unbalanced as time goes on — negatively effecting each of the following, supported by numerous studies in both humans and animals:

  • alertness
  • learning & memory
  • emotional resilience
  • reaction time
  • powers of effective assessment & decision making prowess
  • resistance to infection and illness
  • insulin metabolism & the regulation of other hormones
  • blood pressure regulation
  • and a great many other bodily and cognitive functions.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep requirements vary from person to person — some people are naturally minimal or maximal sleepers.

  • Some people maintain that less than five hours a night is really all they need to feel refreshed and well rested in the morning and alert until close to their regular bedtime.
  • Others find they need ten or more hours per night to say the same.
  • Still others manage to avoid the ill effects of sleep debt by supplementing night-time sleeping with short naps throughout the day.

Some sleep experts suggest that the best way to determine your personal sleep requirements is – during a period where you feel relatively well-rested – to wake up “naturally,” in other words, without an alarm clock. The amount of time spent asleep would be your personal requirement. Studies show that about six to eight hours per day is the average amount of sleep the “average” person needs.

Are YOU Sleep Deprived?

sleepingOnBreadBecause science really doesn’t understand the function of sleep, the exact number of hours that a particular person needs to spend sleeping is difficult to determine.

If you struggle to maintain alertness during the day without caffeine, nicotine, or some other stimulating substance, experience mini-sleeps (falling asleep for a short period of time — 5 minutes or so), or regularly fall asleep immediately after lying down, there is a high-probably you are sleep-deprived.

We are rarely aware when we experience micro-sleeps – which studies indicate that we all do when we are sleep-deprived, by the way. They can be deadly when they occur at a time when a complex or split second decision is necessary.

Overt Sleep Debt Dangers


Greatly Increased Risks of Traffic Accidents

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sleepy drivers are responsible for over 100,000 accidents and 1500 fatalities every single year.

And those are just the ones that have been documented
— in the United States!

Since the state we refer to as “drowsiness” occurs just before
falling asleep, driving “drowsy” can easily lead to disaster.

  • In driving simulations, accidents increase progressively as total sleep duration is decreased to 7, 5, and 3 hours per night over a period of a single week.
  • According to the National Sleep Foundation “If you have trouble keeping your eyes focused, if you can’t stop yawning, or if you can’t remember driving the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely.”

By the way, caffeine and other stimulants are not able to overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation. So if you find yourself driving drowsy, the only sane thing to do is to find a safe place to stop and pull over — you NEED to catch up on some sleep before continuing to drive.

In studies, metabolism in the prefrontal and parietal associational areas of the brain both decrease when deprived of sleep for 24 hours — areas important for visual association, judgment, impulse control, and attention.

On tasks used for testing coordination, sleep-deprived people perform as poorly as – or worse than – people who are intoxicated.

Seriously decreased work performance

  • In tasks requiring judgment, increasingly risky decisions are noted as the total sleep duration is limited to 5 hours per night within one short week. The high cost of an action seems to be ignored in favor of limited benefits, as the individual experiences both a decrease in response speed and the beginning of accuracy failure.

SOME of the major industrial accidents attributed at least partly to errors made by fatigued night-shift workers include the Exxon Valdez oil spill and both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant incidents.

Subtler Sleep Debt Dangers

BrainFuzzSleep deprivation is a relative concept, and sleep debt is difficult to quantify,
but studies have shown that higher-order cognitive tasks are impaired disproportionately, and early in the process.

We get “fuzzy brained,” and frequently don’t realize we’re doing something “dumb” until after we’ve done it and are left to handle the consequences.

  • Even small amounts of sleep loss produce a variety of subtle cognitive impairments (as little as a shortfall of an hour per night repeatedly). Outside of a lab test, these impairments frequently go unrecognized – by others, as well as the individual demonstrating an impairment that is measurable in a lab.
  • Total sleep duration of 7 hours per night over one short week leads to measurable impairment on tasks requiring simultaneous focus on several objectives.

Studies have demonstrated decreased speed in tasks of simple reaction time as well as more demanding computer-generated mathematical problem solving – a measurement of cognitive effectiveness.

  • Sleep appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly. Not only does insufficient sleep leave us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day, it also leads to memory impairments  in addition to its toll on physical performance.

Those of us with “alphabet disorders” really can’t afford to be cavalier about further impairments to our functioning.

Sleep debt exacerbates our functionality struggles to a greater degree than it does for those who start out with fewer cognitive impairments to begin with.

  • We all know what “well rested” looks like – better! A quick look in the mirror in the morning and we can tell by looking whether or not we’ve had enough sleep.

Studies have shown that, during deep sleep, many of our cells demonstrate both an increase in the production of protein-related repair and a reduction in protein breakdown.

Proteins are building blocks necessary for cell growth and repair of damage, so deep sleep may actually BE that “beauty sleep” we’ve been urged to make sure we get!

  • Lack of sleep also makes us grouchy!

Activity in parts of the brain that control emotions and social interactions is drastically reduced during deep sleep, suggesting that sleep may help us maintain optimal emotional and social functioning while we are awake.

  • Sleep debt makes us more likely to be pudgy!

The connection between hormone regulation and sleep is fairly well studied. Insulin is the hormone that helps to metabolize glucose. Excesses are stored as FAT.

If you’re on a weight-loss diet, you might even be able to get away with cheating a bit if you make sure you get enough sleep. Now if that doesn’t convince you of the importance of avoiding sleep-debt, nothing will!

Never take the need for sleep lightly


If you are one of those lucky individuals who is ABLE to fall asleep relatively easily when you put yourself to bed – DO IT!

  • Healthy sleeping really does need to be your NUMBER ONE priority.
  • There is absolutely nothing you can do for yourself that will pay higher dividends than getting enough high-quality sleep.

BAD idea to try to soldier on

  • Once you’ve pushed yourself to the point of realizing that you need to go to bed, there is absolutely nothing you can do that you won’t be able to do more quickly and easily the following day.  Chances are good that your actions will produce a higher quality result as well.
  • If you play with your sleep cycle long enough, you will begin to experience an increasing number of sleep-struggles, and some of you will slide right over the sleep-disorder line.

Once sleep problems develop, they will magnify cognitive impairments, and are likely to result in intellectual confusion as well as emotional struggles and frustration, increasing the risks and severity of depression.

Hospitalized patients who are unable to sleep notice pain at lower levels than those who sleep easily, demonstrated by an increasing number of requests for pain medication, with a shorter reported duration of effect for each dose.

Better management of sleep irregularities in individuals with other disorders can improve their quality of life in a number of seemingly unrelated realms, including both physical health and mental health regulation.

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t be a sleep ninny! 

  1. Figure out how much sleep you need
  2. Translate that into an effective sleep/wake schedule you can stabilize
    seven days a week,
  3. Determine your optimal bed time
  4. and GO TO BED!

© 2013, 2017, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs ALWAYS okay, and much appreciated)


Upcoming Articles will go over other sleep basics — like the cycling of the sleep stages, which will underscore the importance of allowing yourself enough time to cycle through them all (which will help to explain WHY some amounts of sleep make it harder to wake up at a certain time, and how to tweak to make it easier). 

We’ll also take a closer look at what happens when chronorhythms destabilize  and some of the warning signs that you are dancing to close to the destabilization edge — SO STAY TUNED.

As always, if you want notification of new articles – in the Sleep Series, or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too) STRICT No Spam Policy

HOWEVER you do it, stay tuned — there’s A LOT to know, and a lot more to come. Get it here, while its still free for the taking!

If you’d like some one-on-one (or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page) and I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

COACHING LINKS at end of all posts

Related articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

About Comorbidities

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Sleep Info Sites

Sleep Articles

BY THE WAY: I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

29 Responses to HIGH Interest Charges on Sleep Debt

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  8. Shattered in Him says:

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  9. Grandtrines says:

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    Liked by 1 person

  10. Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Grand Dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Choices and Decisions | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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    • WOW – how could I refuse to approve such a positive comment? Thank you from the bottom of my heart – I am pretty proud of the Sleep Series myself, so its especially gratifying to hear that others like it too.

      I’m heading off to bed, nursing a nasty head cold, but I’ll take some time to investigate what YOU are up to as soon as I have a brain tomorrow.



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