Sleep Debt, Is it Real?




We all have heard the phrase, “you need to catch up on your sleep.” It begs the question, can we really ever catch up? I have to admit, these last three months have been very chaotic for me. I’ve committed myself to doing nada on Saturdays other than self-care, and it’s definitely helped me feel more rested, but what happens throughout the week? Can you really catch up on sleep “debt”?

In short, YES you can. But you can’t just sleep non-stop for an entire day and recover. How many of us have totally tried that time and again only to wake up even more tired than before?! Finding your baseline sleep amount to “function” is very important. For me, I usually sleep from 9 PM to 4:30 AM, 7.5 hours and I’m ready to go. I usually am in bed by 7:30 just relaxing and winding down, which helps me get stronger, deeper sleep.

Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep and up to nine days to eliminate sleep debt. A full recovery from sleep debt returns our body to its baseline, reducing the risks associated with sleep loss. Four days recovery from one hour of sleep loss?! I know some of you are in some serious debt, lol.

So, what exactly is “Sleep Debt”? Sleep debt, or sleep deficit, is the difference between the amount of sleep someone needs and the amount they actually get. For example, if your body needs eight hours of sleep per night, but you only get six, you have two hours of sleep debt.

Since sleep debt is cumulative, going to sleep 30 or 60 minutes later than usual for a few days can quickly add up. The most common activities that cause Americans to miss sleep are work hours, commuting, socializing, relaxing, watching TV, or trolling social media (the last one is totally me).

Tips for Catching up on Sleep

If you’re hoping to catch up on sleep after accumulating sleep debt, here are a few ideas for getting back to a healthy sleep schedule and recovering from the effects of sleep loss:

• Consistency is key: Build time into your schedule for sleep and try to keep your bedtime and morning alarms at the same every day, even on weekends.
• Keep a diary: A sleep diary can help you track your sleep patterns and any patterns or practices that are affecting your sleep. Try keeping a sleep diary, it only takes a few minutes a day. recommend this one from Sleep Foundation and also recommend the Oura Ring and other apps that track the quality of your sleep.
• Try an afternoon nap: While napping isn’t a replacement for lost sleep, it can help you feel more rested during the day. Naps may be particularly helpful for shift workers or people who can’t maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Even a short power nap can refresh the rest of your day.
• Give it time: Remember that it can take days to recover from a sleep debt. Increase your sleep time slowly, by 15- to 30-minutes at a time, until you reach the optimal amount of sleep for your body. Focus on improving your sleep hygiene and consistently getting enough rest, and your body will do the rest.
• Talk to your doctor: If sleep debt is interfering with your daytime activities or if you’re having trouble recovering, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
• Self-Care Saturdays (I swear by them!): Relaxing, watching movies, and using all of my favorite lavender skincare items all day!

Remember, sleep is essential for brain function, so if you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t be able to operate at your best level — we always want to be doing that. Here’s to Sleep Recovery and optimal brain/body function!

XOXO, Heather