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Do You Carry a Sleep Debt?

How much sleep debt do you have? Find out with this tool.

People who get less sleep than they need build up a sleep debt. An eight-hour sleeper who sleeps only six hours is two hours in debt.

Missing an hour or so of sleep for a day or two may have no consequences or only minor ones. Missing several hours of sleep for even one day may affect your performance that next day, or night. Missing sleep day after day produces an increasingly larger sleep debt. Each successive day with too little sleep magnifies the adverse consequences. You may respond more slowly to signals, or forget items on your checklist.

Use this sleep-wake diary to calculate your sleep debt for the past week. Suppose you need eight hours of sleep per day. For one week, that adds up to 56 hours. Did you get that much sleep? Subtract your total from 56: that's your sleep debt for just one week.

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Sleep debt can’t be repaid in the same way as a financial debt. It may not be possible to sleep one hour for every hour you missed. When you have a sleep debt, try to get as many hours of recovery sleep as you can, as soon as you can. Then try to boost the amount of sleep you get each day, aiming to consistently get the amount you need to feel fully alert.  

Tips to prevent sleep debt

  • Try to keep sleep at the top of your daily agenda. Consider your sleep debt when you have to choose between getting sleep and taking care of work, family, or social obligations. Never put your safety and health on the line.
  • Nap when possible. If you don't get all the sleep you need one day, try to make up for missed sleep as soon as you can.
  • Seek social support. Talk with your family about your sleep needs. Ask them to help you get the sleep you need by taking your sleep into account, if possible, when scheduling family activities. Don't expect them to tiptoe around the house while you sleep. Instead, soundproof your bedroom, or sleep in a room removed from household activity.
  • Make time for "dates" with your spouse or partner that will not steal time from sleep. Try to keep up social relationships with friends, even if you must meet them for pancakes instead of pizza, or catch a movie together in the afternoon instead of the evening. For more on family and social life, see Balance Work & Life.