Can Sleep Debt Affect Your Lifestyle Long-Term? A Scientist Breaks It Down Once And For All

We've heard of being in debt financially before, but another kind of debt may negatively impact your life for the long term. Sleep debt is the build-up of inadequate sleep over a series of days. Although most of us understand it's important to maintain a proper sleep schedule to perform our best each day, getting the proper amount while maintaining our responsibilities can be a challenge. We cannot ignore sleep debt if our goal is optimal health.


If you require nine hours of sleep to feel your best and you're only getting seven because you are going to bed too late or waking up in the middle of the night, you are giving yourself two hours of sleep debt. This can build up over time as each night of difficult sleep compounds and has a negative impact on our health in the long term.

In an exclusive chat with Glam, head sleep expert and sleep scientist at Wesper Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib explained the negative effects that can occur if we do not start paying attention to our sleep. By understanding the risks, you can take the proper steps to keep yourself sleep-debt-free.

Sleep debt impacts your ability to store information

If you've been struggling to remember things lately, reflect on how much sleep you are getting each night. Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib tells Glam exclusively, "Chronic sleep debt seriously impacts our ability to learn because we need sufficient REM sleep to turn short-term memories into long-term memories." There are many transfers going on in our brains when we sleep. Our brains keep our short-term memories stored in our hippocampus. After this happens, the hippocampus determines what information needs to stay and what information should go. Dr. Rohrscheib goes on to say that this process is called "memory consolidation," and it is a major factor in what we commit to memory and what we toss out as unneeded information.


If we are not getting adequate sleep, our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is affected, making it impossible to hang on to new information for very long. Sleep debt hinders our brain's ability to function properly when we attempt to learn new information, so if you are struggling to consume and remember new information, it may have to do with the number of hours you sleep at night.

Weakens fertility

We know there are many biological factors that go into conceiving a baby, but some people desiring parenthood may be overlooking one component in their fertility journey. Just like our brains, long-term sleep debt can negatively impact our sex hormones, affecting our fertility. Hormones such as testosterone and progesterone can be thrown into disorder without proper sleep. If you have been trying to conceive and are experiencing difficulty, examine the fact that you may not be getting enough sleep at night. If you aren't enjoying adequate sleep, consider shifting your schedule to boost the likelihood that you will get pregnant.


Hormones are not the only part of fertility affected. "Clinical studies have found that chronic sleep loss can impact the health of sperm and egg cells and can prevent ovulation," explains Dr. Chelsie Rohrsheib in an exclusive interview with Glam. "Some studies even suggest the stress of sleep loss may even contribute to early miscarriage." If you have been trying for a baby with no luck, reexamine your sleeping schedule. Sleep debt just may be to blame.

Causes disease

If you've ever felt the fog after a couple of sleepless nights, it's because you haven't spent enough time in a deep sleep for your brain to filter through any added waste. Dr. Chelsie Rohrsheib reveals exclusively to Glam, "During the day, as our brain metabolizes energy, it creates metabolites that act as toxic wastes. The waste products are damaging to our neurons, the communicating cells of the brain. These wastes are removed by our brain's in-built sewer system, called the glymphatic system, during Non-REM stage three deep sleep."


By not spending enough quality time in stage three deep sleep, our brains don't have time to clear out the mental debris left over from metabolization. Just as our sleep debt is building up, so is our brain waste. Even worse, this inability to clear out our brains can cause cognitive decline resulting in Alzheimer's or Dementia. By getting consistent, adequate sleep, our brains can be cleared out by the glymphatic system.

Hinders cell repair

When we sleep, our minds and our bodies take the opportunity to reset and recharge. When we compile our sleep debt, both are left in disarray. Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib explains that deep sleep is essential to "restore the brain and body" so that we can fight off infection and heal from injuries. Cell and tissue repair, immune system building, and hormone release processes require deep rest to happen sufficiently, and without the proper rest to complete these processes, we leave ourselves open to many negative possibilities.


"When we are chronically sleep-deprived, these essential restorative processes become less efficient and this results in an increased risk for chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes," says Dr. Rohrscheib in our exclusive chat. Our weakened immune system makes us more susceptible to COVID-19, and other viruses like the cold and flu. If you do become ill, your compromised immune system does not allow you to heal quickly from these illnesses, in addition to any injuries that may occur.

Sleep debt isn't just about losing a little sleep each day making you always feel tired; it's a major factor in the way our bodies reset and recharge.