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Sleep Debt: Everything You Need to Know

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Update: June 23, 2023
5 min read

Written by

Manya Mishra
Content Writer
Sleep Debt

A study shows people sleeping less than 6 hours each night were 12% more likely to get a premature death than those who sleep well for 6-8 hours. This information can be an eye-opener for those who sacrifice their sleep over work, late-night parties, or scrolling social media. If you, too, sleep for less than 6 hours, you might have accumulated sleep debt. 

So, what is sleep debt, and how to get rid of it? Keep reading the article to know more.

What Is Sleep Debt

What is sleep debt? Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount of sleep you get. For instance, you need 7 hours of sleep per night, but you doze only for 5 hours. Then, you have 7-5=2 hours of sleep debt. What’s more? The debt is cumulative. It means that if the sleep debt gets accumulated for 5 days consistently, then 2 hours of debt for 5 days is 2X5=10 hours. With increasing sleep debt, the brain and body functioning gets depleted gradually. Therefore, a night of quality slumber is the only option to pay off your sleep debt.

What are the Consequences of Sleep Debt

Is sleep debt real? Yes, it is. You will understand sleep debt if you know its consequences. There are short-term and long-term consequences of sleep debt. In short-term sleep debt, a person may suffer from stress, emotional distress, mood disorders, and poor life quality. On the other hand, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, weight-related issues, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome are observed in long-term sleep debt. Thus, it is vital to get proper treatment under expert guidance.

How to Avoid Sleep Debt

After reading about the consequences, you might wonder how to avoid sleep debt. Firstly, try to prevent sleep debt accumulation. Knowing your body’s sleep needs will help you plan things. Adults need 7 hours of sleep, whereas children need more hours for physical and mental growth. 

1. Keep A Set Sleep Schedule

Setting up a sleep schedule helps you to prioritise your sleep. You will be more productive the following day when your body gets complete rest. If the need arises, gradually change your sleep schedule as per the circadian rhythm. It is the body’s internal clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle. 

2. Develop A Nightly Routine

A nightly routine is a way to prepare your brain for a good night’s sleep. Set the alarm for 30 minutes before your sleep time. Switch off the lights, keep your gadgets away, and set the room temperature to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, listening to soothing music, reading and journaling will be beneficial.

Consider Daytime Habits

What habits are contributing to your sleep debt? Once you understand those habits, you can take action to mitigate your slumber issues. Getting enough daylight and exercise is crucial for better sleep. To ease your process of sleeping on time, avoid alcohol, junk food, or caffeine before bedtime. You will be surprised to know that drinking coffee delays your internal body clock by 40 minutes. Therefore, ensure you go to bed only to sleep or spend time with your partner.

Find Out How Much Sleep You Need

To plan your sleeping schedule, you need to know how much sleep you need. Children and teenagers need 10-12 hours of sleep. Adults from 18-60 years of age need 7 hours of sleep. At the same time, adults above 60 years of age need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If you feel tired even after sleeping 7-9 hours, consult your doctor to examine any sleep disorders. The sleep debt symptoms are insomnia, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, slowed reaction times, and headaches.

Making Your Bedroom More Sleep-friendly

Try out the following things to make your bedroom more sleep-friendly.

  • Firstly, invest in a mattress that gives you a deep sleep without aches and pains. Your ideal mattress should be as per your body shape, size, weight and height. 
  • Secondly, choose calm colours for your bedroom to help soothe your mind and eyes as you doze off. 
  • Thirdly, decluttering your room will help ease your stress. Cluttered spaces make the mind dull and gloomy, leading to anxiety and depression. 

Finally, aromatherapy with lavender essential oil will fill your ambience with positive energy, thus uplifting your mood and aiding sleep.

How To Recover From Sleep Debt  

Sleep debt can be the result of any underlying medical conditions, work-life imbalance, or unnecessary overthinking. The following ways will help you understand how to recover from sleep debt. 

Take naps

How to get sleep debt relief? It’s simple. Take naps. A study showed that a brief 10 to 20 minutes nap would refresh you during the day. Mid-afternoon nap increases your memory, mood, and productivity. Moreover, it helps reduce fatigue and tiredness.

Sleep More On The Weekends

Can you catch up on sleep on weekends to pay off your sleep debt? Think again. An article in Current Biology shows that snoozing on weekends fails to prevent metabolic dysregulation during a repeating pattern of insufficient sleep. It creates a false sense of recovery. The truth is that your body needs time to recover from sleep debt. The only option to get quality rest is to follow a strict bedtime routine.

Reconsider Your Relationship With Sleep

Your relationship with sleep depends on your thoughts and feelings about it. Is it hate or love, or is the relationship neutral? Whatever it is, your sleep gets impacted massively. Meditation and journaling will help calm your mind, and you can listen to your body. Try to comprehend your sleep by listening, catching the emotions, and writing them down. Once you understand what your sleep is trying to communicate, you will learn to deal with your sleep issues. Be grateful each morning and night for all the blessings you have. Prioritise your sleep as you would do any other important work. Also, stick to the routine even on weekends.

Making up for lost sleep

When it comes to making up for lost sleep, quality is key. While it’s tempting to try to cram in extra hours of sleep after a sleepless night, it’s not always the best solution. Instead, focus on establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.

Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you need a short nap to boost your energy, keep it to 20 minutes or less to avoid disrupting your sleep cycle. Remember, the best way to recover from sleep deprivation is to prioritize regular, restful sleep rather than relying on sporadic bouts of excessive sleep.


Thus, sleep debt is real. If you are losing sleep for various reasons and wonder if you can catch up on sleep, then you are attracting a sleep debt that you might never be able to repay. Remember, there’s no alternative to sleep. It takes determination to set up a bedtime routine and follow it religiously to get rid of sleep debt. 


Is sleep debt a real thing?

Your sleep debt increases daily when you don’t get enough sleep over several days. For instance, if a person needs 8 hours of sleep but only gets 6, that person will accrue a 2-hour sleep debt for the day. A person with an 8-hour sleep requirement who gets 6 hours per day for 5 days accumulates a 10-hour sleep debt.

Can you regain sleep debt?

According to research, recovering from one hour of lost sleep can take up to four days, and paying off sleep debt can take up to nine days. Our body recovers to its normal state after fully recovering from sleep debt, lowering the hazards related to sleep deprivation.

What are the symptoms of sleep debt?

Excessive daytime sleepiness and impairments like lowered focus, slower thinking, and mood swings are the main signs and symptoms of sleep loss. One of the indicators of sleep deprivation is feeling fatigued during the day.

What causes sleep debt?

You have a sleep debt when you get less sleep than your body requires. It builds up over time, so your sleep debt will increase if you consistently get less sleep than you need. 


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Written by

Manya Mishra
Content Writer
Bachelor's Degree in English Literature 7 years of experience as a content writer Has experience writing for various industries, including health and wellness, travel, and technology

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