Why Sleep Debt is Killing Your Performance—and How to Recover

Are you tired long before bedtime? Do you find yourself irritable at the office, uncoordinated at the gym, and easily distracted when you should be plugged in? There’s a chance you’re suffering from sleep deprivation—sleep debt, for short—an unpleasant state that affects about one in five adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 

In fact, Dr. Daniel Barone, assistant professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine and associate medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says he’s seen more and more of his patients experiencing the downsides of a lack of sleep. “I have a lot of patients come to me and say, ‘You know what, I’m just not as sharp as I used to be, I’m not as quick as I used to be. I go into a room, I can’t remember why I’m there,’ that kind of stuff,’” he told an audience at Webster Library in New York last year. ‘“There’s other reasons for that, possibly, but one of them is sleep.”

Could you be suffering from sleep debt? Here’s a bit more about the condition, what it’s effects are, and how to recover from it.

What is sleep deprivation, exactly?

It’s fairly simple, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual fails to get enough sleep.” The amount of sleep you need may be slightly different than the amount of sleep your neighbor needs, but in general, the Academy says that adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night. So if you’re getting less than seven hours on a regular basis, you’re sliding into sleep debt. 

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

If you’re suffering from sleep deprivation, or sleep debt for short, you’ll feel tired during the day, of course—but you’ll also notice negative changes in your mood, your health, and your performance. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine lists some of the mood-related symptoms as irritability, anxiety, and lack of motivation. Changes in health include an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity, and diabetes. 


And changes in performance—which will hit athletes and those with intense jobs or packed schedules particularly hard—include lack of concentration, reduced energy, distractibility, lack of coordination, increased errors, and longer reaction times. 


In short, sleep debt is a dangerous state for anyone to reach, but especially those with demanding physical and intellectual schedules.


How can I recover from sleep debt?


It’s awfully easy to say “sleep more,” but anyone who’s struggled with insomnia or an over-packed schedule knows that it’s not that simple. Dr. Barone emphasizes the importance of having good sleep hygiene—“that is, utilizing the correct habits to help ensure quality sleep,” he says. Having good sleep hygiene includes getting to bed at the same time every night, keeping blue-light devices (phones, computers, TV) out of the bedroom, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine for four hours before bed. 


Equally important are the products you’re sleeping on. The deepest, most restorative level of sleep is Slow Wave Sleep, during which blood supply increases to your muscles, your pituitary gland releases Human Growth Hormone, your body regulates the stress hormone cortisol, and your joints, muscles, and tissues all repair themselves. It’s important to surround yourself with bedding that helps you reach the Slow Wave Sleep stage—and stay there.  


One of the most important factors in the quality and duration of your sleep is temperature. Your body’s core temperature needs to drop sufficiently for you to reach and stay in Slow Wave Sleep—and that’s where your bedroom set-up can really make a difference. At MOLECULE, we’ve Air-Engineered ™ every one of our products to maximize airflow and facilitate cooling, drastically improving your recovery—and making sleep debt a thing of the past.