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Day 1

Sleep Lesson: Learn the Impact of Sleep Debt on Performance  


Many students are operating on less sleep than they need to function optimally.  Results from the 2017 National College Health Assessment show that close to half of all UCSB students responding to the survey reported that daytime sleepiness is affecting their daytime activities, and about 48% of UCSB students in this survey reported that they are only getting enough sleep to feel rested three-to five days per week!   


While many people feel they are able to “get by” on less sleep than their body needs, the truth is they are functioning with what we call “sleep debt. ” When sleep debt is high, alertness, learning, memory, and performance is negatively impacted.  Students can increase their daily effectiveness in academics and performance activities by ensuring that they get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.


Your feelings of alertness and sleepiness are regulated by two systems that interact to help keep you alert during the day and promote sleepiness at night time. Your biological clock is synchronized to the light-dark cycles of the sun and biochemical events that prime you to feel sleepy as day turns to night and increasing alertness as the sun rises. Your sleep is also regulated by a homeostatic process where your drive or pressure to sleep increases throughout the day from the time that you wake up in the morning.


Sleep debt is essentially a record of the number of hours of sleep that needs to be re-paid to your body so that you can function optimally the next day. It is estimated that you will add one hour of sleep debt for every two hours you are awake. So, after you are awake for about 16 hours, you owe your body 8 hours of sleep.  


As sleep debt rises during the day, your biological clock will alert you to stay awake until later in the evening. The effects of the alerting system are weakened in midday between 1-3 pm which is why you often experience a period of decreased alertness after lunch time.


When you get less than a full night of sleep, your debt is not fully repaid and you carry your sleep debt with you into the next day. When you have a large sleep debt, you may feel okay during the day, especially when you are engaged in a lot of activity or excitement. However, when activity levels are reduced (i.e. a darkened lecture room, monotonous activity or sounds, or sitting as a passenger in a car), sleep debt is revealed when you begin to doze off or completely fall asleep (intentionally or otherwise). You might blame a boring lecture or the meal you ate, but more likely it’s the sleep debt that's hard to fight off when activity settles down. Getting out of sleep debt is possible, but it’s not as simple as sleeping a couple extra hours on the weekends. It’s more a function of how many days/hours of debt you're carrying over a certain period of time and committing to get as much rest as you need until your body is fully replenished.


To reach your optimal performance in school and other performance activities each day (sports, music, etc.), you need a full night of restful sleep, and commitment to sleep should be consistent.  That is, set a routine for waking and sleeping that enables you to get 7-9 hours per night.



Week-Long Sleep Challenge

Log your sleep this week to help you find your optimal amount of sleep and natural times for sleep and waking.  Some people are night owls and others are early birds, so take note if you do your best on harder tasks earlier in the morning or in the evening.  


Use this sleep challenge to help you identify your sleep needs so that you can optimize your performance and well-being. REMEMBER: Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep. Need for less than 6 hours of sleep is not common, so keep in mind that while you may feel fine during the day, if you tend to feel sleepy or doze off during the day, especially outside of the midday dip (between 1-3pm.), it’s likely that you need more sleep than you are getting.


In fact, when you're dozing off, you're entering stage 1 sleep and won’t retain information from your late night study session. Make it easier for yourself to wake up for those Monday morning classes by not straying over 1-2 hours from your sleep/wake schedule on the weekend.



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