Paying Back a Sleep Debt

We’ve all been there: Stayed out too late, stayed up beyond a reasonable bedtime catching a movie or TV show, or just burning our candles at both ends because we have this, well, macho desire to excel.

If you lose out on needed sleep, does it have no effect? Of course not, it will result in fatigue, loss of focus, loss of concentration and trouble coping in the daytime hours. Some people will try to cover this up with caffeine products, whether coffee or energy drinks, and those products can indeed help us cope.


You still need to make up the lost hours — your sleep debt — which you can do either willingly with new sleep habits, or unwillingly by falling asleep when you’re trying to do something else, whether reading, watching TV or even working at your desk.

How do you make up for a sleep deficit?

First, sleeping in on the weekend can help, though it’s certainly not the ultimate solution. The ultimate solution, of course, is to return to — or adopt for the first time — a good sleep hygiene regimen, which we’ve discussed in many posts.

Here are some tips and tricks for closing the sleep debt you’ve incurred by not sleeping enough or properly enough:

  • Vow to get at least 7-and-a-half hours of sleep a night going forward, even more if you can depending on your body’s needs. Just getting in the proper sleep-hygiene rhythm will do wonders for you.
  • Use a road map to sleep recovery: If you’ve lost 10 hours of sleep over a two-week period, then aim to sleep an extra hour or two each night until you’ve made up the 10 big ones.
  • Keep a sleep diary of when you go to bed, when you get up, how many hours you sleep and how you feel the next day. This will help you devise your own best sleep routine.
  • If nothing else, take a “sleep” vacation to catch up. It might not be the best way to spend precious days off entertainment-wise, but for your health and well-being, a staycation can be great.

Most importantly, change your attitude toward sleep and make it a priority. Remember, it’s not the number of hours you cram into your waking days but the quality of those hours. Sleep deprivation can make one’s waking hours less than satisfactory, no matter how many of them there are, whereas a rejuvenating sleep each night can make each day rock with excitement and fulfillment.

Bottom line, you need to treasure your sleep time as the gateway to your daily fulfillment, achievements and happiness. Don’t create a sleep debt, but run up an account balance on life’s achievements based on solid sleep habits.

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