Wellness, Home & Lifestyle, Science & Tech

Prevent Sleep Debt

Matthew Walker

Lesson time 17:17 min

Learn what sleep debt is, how it occurs, and how best to combat it.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Naps: The Double-Edged Sword • How to Nap • Combat Jet Lag


[MUSIC PLAYING] - We have a term in sleep science called sleep debt. And this represents the mismatch between your actual sleep need and how much sleep that you've been getting, and specifically the circumstance where you haven't been meeting your standard biological sleep need. We've spoken about adenosine as the sleepiness chemical or sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is this natural chemical buildup of adenosine. That's good and it's healthy. And it helps us time when we need to get to bed. And, therefore, it ensures if we have enough of that healthy sleepiness, that we can fall asleep easily and then stay asleep. And this also has ramifications when we speak about sleep debt. Because every night if we're not getting the sleep that we need, we're not giving our brain the ability to fully clear away all of that adenosine at night. And so we carry this gradual sort of developing inertia of sleepiness throughout the day, where day after day we still have some of that adenosine lingering in our system. And it's like compounding interest on a loan. It just keeps accumulating. And that's why regularity is so critical. But the buildup of the sleep debt also has something else inherent in it, which is this idea that sleep is like the bank. But, unfortunately, sleep is not like the bank. You can't accumulate debt and then hope to pay it off at a later point during the weekend. If you miss out on sleep, and particularly critical stages or even an entire night of sleep, what you lose during that night you can't get back with recovery sleep. And, furthermore, your body is just not capable of regaining all of the lost sleep that you had. Sleep is a biological necessity. And your brain and your body expect that sleep, and they expect it each and every night. One of the dangers that we've discovered with a lack of sleep is that you don't actually know you are under slept when you are under slept. So studies teach us that in people who are even just mildly sleep deprived by one hour or two hours every night for a couple of nights, if you ask them about how they're performing cognitively, they say I'm performing just fine. I'm performing optimally, and I don't feel sleepy. But yet when you look at their objective performance, it's already starting to degrade. So their subjective sense of how well they are doing is a measurable predictor of objectively how they're doing when they're not getting sufficient sleep. There's also an acute death risk when it comes to insufficient sleep. And that risk is drowsy driving. Because even when we start to shave off a little bit of sleep, maybe just one or two hours, we will often have what we call microsleeps at the wheel, where you don't realize that you're falling asleep. But your eyes will partially close or fully close for just a second or two. Now, if you're driving at 65 miles an hour and you have one of these microsleeps, it may be the last microsleep that you ever have. Several studies h...

About the Instructor

As a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, Matthew Walker is an expert on sleep. In this class, he will illuminate the science behind sleep and teach you how to increase the quality and quantity of your sleep. Learn how to prevent sleep debt, navigate the effects of alcohol and caffeine, and improve your health. Your best sleep starts tonight.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Matthew Walker

Neuroscience professor Matthew Walker teaches you the science of sleep and how to optimize it to better your overall health.

Explore the Class
Sign Up