Sleep Debt: Can You Catch Up On Sleep? [With Tips To Recover From Sleep Debt]

Last Update on January 20, 2022 : Published on January 19, 2022
Sleep Debt

When you’re working on an important presentation for work, studying for a school test, or when you’re a new parent, getting a good night’s rest can seem out of reach. During those nights with disrupted sleep or when you can’t get the sleep your body needs, you incur a sleep debt.

Sleep debt or sleep deficit is a real thing if you were wondering. In simple words, sleep debt is the difference between the sleep you need and the sleep you get. When the amount of sleep you get is lower than the sleep you need, you experience sleep debt or sleep deficit.

Sleep is an important part of our overall health and wellness and not getting enough sleep each night can result in consequences such as low energy throughout the day, weakened immune system, and poor cognitive function.

Did you know that sleeping less than 7 hours a night can increase your risk of physical health problems, heart diseases, and cancer?

In this blog, let’s take a look at what is sleep debt, the consequences of sleep debt, how to avoid sleep debt, and tips to recover from sleep debt.

What Is Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt can be defined as when the amount of sleep you get is less than the amount of sleep your body requires each night. When you regularly get less sleep than your body needs, your sleep debt increases.

For example, when you sleep for three hours and your body needs at least seven hours of sleep, you’ll incur a sleep debt of four hours. If you continue this pattern for a week, you’ll incur a sleep debt of 28 hours.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an average of 7-9 hours of sleep for adults between the age of 18-65 is recommended. And for adults older than 65, at least 7-8 hours of sleep is needed each night. If you skip the recommended amount of sleep for one or two nights, then it’s okay but any longer and your body will begin to feel the stress.

Calculate how much sleep do you need with this sleep cycle calculator.

Sleep Debt Can Affect Your Health

Well, if you regularly miss out on your sleep, your sleep debt will increase and in turn, would impact your psychological, mental, and physical health. If your sleep debt increases and you fail to catch up on sleep, you might:

  • Feel fatigued throughout the day
  • Lose focus and productivity
  • Experience a weakened immune system
  • Experience difficulty processing and retaining information
  • Experience an increase in blood pressure
  • Become prone to diabetes or obesity
  • Become prone to cardiovascular diseases

Even so, if you have a sleep debt, you may not feel tired or low on energy. Sometimes, when you don’t feel sleepy, your body will still show signs of cognitive and physical decline. This is when you adapt to sleep restriction.

Also, not getting enough sleep can make you sleep deprived and sleep deprivation can further decrease your overall health and make you prone to fatal accidents.

Read: The 5 Stages Of Sleep Deprivation (And How To Avoid Them)

Avoid Sleep Debt – Try These!

Avoiding the consequences of sleep debt starts by understanding the amount of sleep your body needs and by maintaining a healthy sleep balance. Here are some ways you can avoid catching a sleep debt:

1. Know how much sleep you need. Of course, the amount of sleep you need may depend on your age and your individual needs. Many adults need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep while teenagers need at least 9-10 hours of sleep.

2. Have a sleep journal. Having a sleep diary or journal can help you set a sleep schedule that suits your needs. This will also help make sure you’re not adding more hours to your sleep debt.

3. Have a bedtime routine. Relaxing before bed can assure a quality sleep. Make sure you avoid using your phone at least an hour before bed, have night lights, and avoid drinking caffeine or sweetened beverages before bed. You can calm your mind by trying sleep meditation before bed too.

4. Review your daytime routine. Are you doing anything during the day that’s causing you to lose sleep during the night? Figure it out and eliminate it, if possible. For example, if you’re taking long naps during the day, try to cut the hours back. If caffeine is responsible, try to avoid drinking caffeine after 4 pm.

5. Have a sleep-friendly environment. Make sure your bedroom doesn’t house many distractions such as TV or other electronic devices, your sheets and mattress are fresh and comfortable, the temperature of the bedroom is set to 18℃ or 65℉.

Tips To Recover From Sleep Debt

Recovering from sleep debt is possible, however, the duration of recovery might depend on the intensity of your sleep deprivation. One night of uninterrupted sleep might not make up for a sleep debt of several hours, but it might get you started on erasing your deficit.

If it’s a short-term sleep debt, then adding two to three hours of extra sleep each night may help, however, if it’s a long-term sleep debt, then these tips may help you:

1. Naps may help. When you’re underslept or have a sleep debt of more than a few hours, you can take a nap of at least 20 minutes each day. Naps can also help energize you, improve your cognitive performance, and make you less sleepy.

2. Catch up on sleep during weekends. Sleeping more on weekends can also help you recover from your sleep debt. However, in some studies, it was found that sleeping more on weekends may create an imbalance in your regular sleep schedule. So be careful when catching up on sleep.

3. Try to avoid falling into sleep debt. Your relationship with your sleep can also play a role in avoiding or recovering from sleep debt. Instead of taking sleep for granted, take this activity as a part of your self-care routine.

4. Be patient. Recovering from sleep debt isn’t easy and may take days, if not weeks. Try not to focus too much on catching up on lost sleep. Focus on improving your sleep hygiene and getting the rest your body needs.

Catching Up On Sleep

When you’re always busy, it can seem easy to put off sleeping and focusing on other things but don’t forget; sleep is as important as anything else. You may not be able to catch up on the sleep you’ve lost but with the help of the above tips, you may slowly but surely recover from sleep debt or sleep deficit.

To catch up on sleep, you need to allow your body to rest each night. Avoid engaging in habits that affect your sleep cycle such as drinking caffeine close to bedtime or going for exercise before bed.

If you’re still unable to catch up on sleep or recover from sleep debt, you can consider seeing a doctor or a sleep specialist. You should consult a professional especially if you’re experiencing insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or other sleep disorders.

Incurring a sleep debt or depriving yourself of quality sleep can eventually take a toll on your overall health and wellness. Lucky for you, your sleep debt can be paid off by making some changes in your sleep routine and by consulting with a professional.

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I hope, with the above tips you’ll be able to recover from your sleep debt and catch up on the sleep you’ve lost.

If you found this article on sleep debt and how to recover from sleep debt helpful, do share your views in the comments below or you can reach out to us at To stay updated on our content, like and follow us on our social media too!

Sleep well and take care.

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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