"Urban Myth or Scientific Reality?"
By: Terrence Gaddis
There is a concept that has come into the popular knowledge called Sleep
Debt. The general public understanding of sleep debt is that sleep is like a bank account that
needs to be reconciled. For every hour you miss in sleep, you need to pay back this hour with an amount of
additional sleep sometime in your lifetime or you will suffer from the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Although this
concept is pervasively acknowledged by the general populace, it is not universally recognized by all sleep experts
Some researchers have gone on record stating that they believe that the concept of
"sleep debt" is largely a myth.
The idea of sleep debt likely has the origination in the numerous sleep deprivation studies that researchers have
undertaken over the years. Numerous studies have measured that impact of diminished amounts of sleep on human
beings over extended periods. Diminishing periods of sleep have effects that are measureable.
In one study (Von Dongen et al, 2003) used a method of measuring the impact of sleeplessness using Psychomotor
Vigilance Task (PVT) methods on subjects whose sleep was decreased from 8, to 6, to 4, to total sleep deprived
states over a 2 week period. PVT measures, the time to respond to visual cues and tracks subject alertness,
problem-solving skill, psychomotor response, and level of false responding.
In this study, the PVT measurements did show diminishing response times over the study period even with subjects
who were sleeping 6 hours a night over the observed time. This was not an abnormal finding for this type of study.
There are many other studies that show similar impacts on individuals who do not maintain adequate levels of sleep.
There is no dispute that a lack of sleep impacts motor and reasoning skills. However, the idea that sleep debt is
accumulated over time at a one to one ratio has been disputed by some researchers. In fact, it has been
demonstrated on numerous studies that individual who suffer long periods of sleep deprivation resume normal levels
of activities within a few days of extended sleep.
In one journal, Sleep, the sleep researcher Horne made statements that sleep debt is a largely a myth. He states
that most human adults need between 7 and 7.5 hours of sleep on a given day and that all that is required to test
your level of sleep debt is to ask yourself if you can go through the majority of the day alert and not feeling the
need for sleep. He also states that many adults would do better having a 15 minutes nap in the middle of the day
than an extra hour of sleep at night.
Of course, other researchers dispute this claim and have contrary findings in regards to sleep debt. The important
thing to note is that although the one to one nature of replacing a missed hour of sleep with an extra hour of
sleep elsewhere may not be exact, there is no dispute that sleep deprivation has measureable effects on
individuals. One thing that is certain is that when individuals are consistently awoken from REM sleep for extended
periods, a REM-debt does occur. When these individuals do return to sleep, their REM sleep duration is extended to
make up for their lost REM sleep
Go-to-Sleep.net is a website dedicated to the study of sleep. Everything that you could want to to know about how
to go to sleep, including: sleep disorders, causes, cures, and studies.
Terrence Gaddis has been fascinated with sleep maladies since suffering through a case of insomnia in his youth.
From this time forward, he has studied all the causes, treatments and news about this phenomenon.