Sleep debt is similar to financial debt: the fewer Zzz’s you deposit into your “sleep bank”, the more debt you accumulate. How you recover from sleep debt is different than repaying a financial debt, though. Repayment of a sleep debt isn’t on a one-to-one basis (and either is financial debt, if you count interest!).
Sleep debt is accumulated by losing a little bit of sleep over a few days, weeks, months, or even years. You might toss and turn for a night or two – maybe you’re stressed at work or you found a few signs of bed bugs. You might be losing sleep because you have puppies or babies that need your attention every hour or so. Or maybe you’re a night shift worker, doctor, pilot, or musician who has accumulated hundreds of hours of lost sleep over your life span.
There are many reasons for sleep debt – but more important are the ways to recover from sleep deprivation. Why? Because sleep deprivation leads to overeating, memory impairments, poor emotional and mental health, lower sex drive, physical health problems, bad driving, irritability, and a bad case of the grumps.
How long does it take to recover from sleep debt?
If you’ve built up 10 hours of sleep debt over a week, then you’ll probably recover by getting the amount of sleep you need for several days – plus an additional hour of sleep a night to repay the sleep debt. That’s how to repay a short-term sleep debt.
Long-term sleep debt is different, however. If you’ve accumulated hundreds or thousands of hours of sleep debt over a lifetime of bad sleep habits, then it’ll take a few weeks to recover from sleep debt. As with financial debt, you need to continue paying more than needed each month until your sleep debt is erased.
Your body is amazing (not just sexy!) – it recovers from sleep deprivation by sleeping in a more efficient way. When you’re first recovering from sleep debt, you will skip through stages one and two of sleep. You’ll spend more time in deep sleep, which is critical for physical and mental recuperation. When your sleep debt is repaid, the ratios of sleep return to their normal levels.
3 Ways to Repay Sleep Debt
How you repay sleep debt depends on why you’re not getting enough sleep. Here are three general tips for recovering from sleep deprivation that cover most possibilities.
1. Don’t try to recover from sleep debt in a weekend
The wrong way to recover from sleep deprivation is to sleep for a 12 or 24 hour block of time. This just confuses your body, and leads to sleep drunkenness (yes, that’s a thing!). Instead of sleeping for extended periods of time, only add one hour to your usual nightly sleep schedule.
2. Assess your sleep environment
Is your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable? Are you sleeping beside a partner or dog who snores? Your bedroom has a significant effect on your sleep – it’s called sleep hygiene, and you can’t “sleep clean” in a dirty place. Both big and little things affect the quality of your sleep. Me, I hate clutter. I could probably sleep in a messy bedroom, but I much prefer the space of a simple, uncluttered bedroom. Take a look at your sleep environment, and deal with the things that are preventing you from recovering from sleep debt.
A Sleep Mask with Ear Plugs is a great option for sleep recovery because it blocks out all the light. Darkness will help you fall asleep at night — and more importantly, the mask will help you stay asleep for an extra hour in the morning (if that’s how you’re repaying your sleep debt).
3. Take care of physical health problems that cause sleep deprivation
If you’re struggling with snoring problems, obstructive sleep apnea, sleep eating, or other physical health problems that interfere with your sleep, don’t delay a visit to the doctor. Many health problems that disrupt sleep can, if left untreated, lead to other seemingly unrelated health issues. For instance, snoring caused by sleep apnea can lead to stroke, cancer, and even death. If you saw logs loud all night long, read How to Snore No More.
Research shows that even a few days of lost sleep can have adverse health effects, including increased daytime sleepiness, worsened daytime performance, an increase in molecules that are a sign of inflammation in the body, and impaired blood sugar regulation. Never underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep and repaying the sleep debt you accumulate.
When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep?
Mine was last night. I do everything I can to get a good sleep most nights because I have ulcerative colitis. I stay in remission by getting enough rapid eye movement or REM sleep – that’s the deepest, most restorative sleep.
Source of the tips on how to recover from sleep debt: A Good Night’s Sleep by Dr Lawrence Epstein, past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.