Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours

Sleep Debt

a man looking in the mirror with his hands on his face

Not getting adequate sleep over a series of days causes sleep debt to progressively build day by day.

  • For example: a person needing 8 hours of sleep but getting only 6 would build  a sleep debt of 2 hours that day. A person with an 8-hour sleep need who gets 6 hours each day for 5 days builds a sleep debt of 10 hours.
  • As sleep debt builds, brain and body functioning deteriorate.
  • Sleep is needed to “pay down” this debt.

To minimize sleep debt, regularly get the length of sleep you need to feel rested when you awaken.

If you have built up sleep debt, allow extra time for sleep: go to bed early. You sleep more deeply when you are sleep deprived, so you do not need to “pay back” hour for hour the lost sleep. However, if you have not had enough sleep for many days, it might take several nights of good-quality sleep to recover.

Page 19 of 48

Page last reviewed: April 1, 2020