What happens when we don’t sleep well?

Sleep quality is as important as sleep quantity

We feel generally crummy. A poor night’s sleep means we start the day badly and may never properly recover—even with adequate nutrition, exercise, and social interaction.

Lethargy, fatigue, and a lack of motivation can shadow us throughout the day. We may find ourselves moody or irritable and unable to make even simple decisions or concentrate on our usual tasks. We don’t deal as well with stress, and our attention span is impaired. What else?

Our reaction time is slower

Our motor skills are affected, and the risk of accidents is increased

We experience reduced creativity and problem-solving skills

Women and slumber — are you getting your “beauty rest”?

While women sleep more than men, their quality of sleep is generally not as good and can be disturbed by worries and concerns.

Estrogen and progesterone levels at various times of our lives—while we’re having our period, while pregnant and throughout menopause—can have an effect on how we sleep.

Women seem to have more difficulty than men both falling asleep and staying asleep. Younger women have a tendency to ignore their need for sleep in order to deal with the demands of both work and motherhood.

Women are more likely than men to report insomnia.

More than 80% of working women complain of fatigue and exhaustion, and 50% of them don’t get enough sleep.

Physical and hormonal changes in aging women can lead to lighter and less satisfying sleep, and menopause can contribute to frequent sleep disturbances.

Hormonal fluctuations occur during pregnancy, and these changes can have an effect on sleep.

What is a sleep debt, and who do I owe?

You owe yourself

When you don’t get enough sleep—and remember, we have suggested that this is 7–9 hours per night for adults—you accumulate a sleep debt. Let’s say the average person needs 8 hours per night and gets only 6 hours a night for a week—the sleep debt that results is 14 hours. In the short term, you can wipe out this debt by getting the sleep you need along with an extra hour or so each night for a few days; long-term, when you end up with hundreds of hours of sleep debt, it may take several weeks of good quality sleep (again, with an extra hour or two per night) to wipe out that debt.

How do you know if you have a sleep debt?

It’s easy. If you feel sleepy at any time during the day, you have a sleep debt. We can blame it on any number of things—a big lunch, a warm room, a boring meeting—but the fact is that if you fall asleep during the day, you can be sure you have accumulated a sleep debt. If you’ve had a proper night’s sleep, none of these things would make you feel sleepy.

Aside from an extra hour or two a night, is there any way to get out of this debt?

Be consistent. Try to sleep the same number of hours per night once you’re back on track.

A sleep diary can help keep track of your sleep patterns.

Figure out a time when your schedule is a bit more flexible (e.g., no travel, no early meetings, no late-night commitments), and plan a “sleep getaway.” This doesn’t mean all you’re going to do is sleep…it simply means a period of time during which you go to bed at the same time each night and let yourself wake up naturally, without the shattering jolt of an alarm clock or radio.


Remember that sleep is just as important as most other things that you do—and more important than some. Make it a priority just like any other commitment.