Sleep Debt

Last Updated: November 27, 2018

Definition - What does Sleep Debt mean?

Sleep debt is the total deficit of sleep that occurs when an individual experiences persistent lack of sleep on a continual basis. In medicine, sleep debt can be measured comparatively between a subject’s recommended sleep need and the average amount of sleep received within a weekly timeframe. In many cases, accumulated sleep debt can lead to detrimental health conditions including anxiety, depression, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity.

WorkplaceTesting explains Sleep Debt

Many experts contend over the relative health effects of sleep debt based on an individual’s capacity to function at a personal and societal level. For instance, perpetual sleep debt contributes to cognitive impairment and erratic mood swings that can undermine optimal performance as well as potentially lead to serious issues such as cardiovascular disease. Although the ability to completely recover from sleep debt is a misconception, individuals who adopt and follow good sleep hygiene can compensate for some of the deficit, especially during the deep sleep stage.

In the workplace, the side effects of sleep debt often impact important job performance factors including efficiency, morale, and productivity. It is believed that sleep debt is tantamount to alcohol and/or drug addiction in terms of its debilitating effects on cognitive abilities and/or motor coordination skills. Prolonged sleep debt raises liability concerns for employers where the incidence rate for accidents with consequent injuries escalates.

Lax regulations combined with health and safety policy deficiencies covering sleep awareness can have a negative impact on industries such as healthcare and transportation. A consistent sleep routine can mean the difference between avoiding sleep debt and receiving sufficient rest to maintain normal homeostasis of the body. Employers are responsible for identifying signs that might suggest sleep debt combined with establishing health and safety guidelines where sleep is a priority.

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