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Sleep Debt!

You just thought you had credit card debt and/or student loan debt, think again! No bill collector calls to collect on the massive amounts of sleep lost to college students, who often prioritize studying, sports and social gatherings to getting their long lost zzzs, but the body remembers how much you're missing and it will collect that sleep regardless of what your plans may be!

Dr. William C. Dement from Stanford University since 1971 is considered one of the leading authorities in the field of sleep medicine. One of his interests is sleep debt. He explained, "Having defined sleep need and individual daily sleep requirements, sleep debt is therefore the accumulated amount of lost sleep. For example, if the average daily amount of sleep needed by an individual is eight hours, sleeping six hours a night for one week will create a sleep debt of fourteen hours. The larger the sleep debt, the stronger the tendency to fall asleep at any particular moment while we are awake."

Dr. Dement compares sleep debt with credit economic debt. "The choice is either to live your life (getting less than eight hours of sleep a day) with a huge sleep debt, and to be tired all day long, to be impaired and dangerous, in short, to live as a zombie or to decrease your sleep debt to a very low level, and then to get your eight (or so) hours of sleep every night, and to be full of energy, wide awake, performing at your peak, and feeling optimistic and cheerful all day long. It is somewhat analogous to having a huge credit card debt and paying the bill each month with nearly all the dollars going to pay the interest on the debt. Or, to maintain a very low or zero credit card debt such that you pay only the bill each month only for goods purchased."

How do you resolve this debt?

Dr. Dement suggests, "Pay attention to how you feel in the daytime, keep track of how often you think you need a nap, or how often you feel tired or feel drowsy, keep track over at least several days to have a clear idea of how tired you are during the day. Then, each night, obtain the amount of sleep you think you need. Start by obtaining as much extra sleep as possible. Maybe you are pretty sure you need eight hours. You know you don't need ten. Then get ten hours of sleep for a number of nights - you will reach a point where you feel wide awake and alert all day long and you will no longer be able to sleep ten hours, or even nine at night. Not having a large carryover sleep debt, you will only be able to obtain the amount of sleep that you personally need each night."

Keeping a sleep diary for one or two weeks may help you figure out how much sleep you are losing each night and how much you really need.

This article was published in the summer 2005, Volume 7, Issue 3 of Sleep Matters. Information provided by the Pacific Sleep Program. You can visit their website here. They will be able to answer all questions about sleep disorders and give you more information about sleep in general.