Many people in the busy modern world simply do not get enough sleep. Some believe that they can function well on 6 or fewer hours per night – but this simply isn’t the case. Adequate sleep is essential, and recently the concept of “sleep debt” has come into the spotlight as emerging research explores the effects of inadequate sleep.

At times, a sleep deficit can build up overtime, potentially causing serious detrimental health effects. Catching up on sleep is not as straightforward as it might seem. Let’s learn more about sleep debt and explore how to catch up on sleep if you do find yourself falling behind.

 

What is Sleep Debt?

A sleep debt is another word for a deficit of sleep built up over time. Research suggests that adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. That means that if you’re sleeping less than that, you are likely accumulating so-called sleep debt.

If we take the average recommendation of 8 hours per night, and consider that most adults report sleeping more like 6 hours per night, we find that most people are accumulating 2 hours of sleep debt each day. That’s an overall sleep deficit of 10 hours per week!

This deficit can continue to build up and can cause or exasperate a variety of health problems. Interestingly, having an accumulated lack of sleep can be similar to simply not sleeping for a night. So, if you end up with a 7 hour sleep deficit after a week, it may have the same effects by the end of the week as pulling an all-nighter.

 

Is Catching Up On Sleep Possible?

So, can you “repay” your sleep debt to get back on track?

Yes, you can – but it’s not as straightforward as you may think.

For one, a routine of sleeping 2 hours less than the recommended amount can quickly add up to a staggering amount of sleep debt, making it difficult to catch up.

Secondly, sleeping too long on the weekends can cause more harm than good by disrupting your sleep cycle.

So, while it is possible to catch up on sleep, it’s best to do it in the right way.

 

How to Catch Up On Sleep

When it comes to repaying sleep debt, slow and steady is the way to go.

That means that allowing more time for more sleep each night is far more effective than just crashing on the weekends and trying to quickly make up for lost sleep accumulated during the week.

If you accumulate a sleep deficit of 2 or 3 hours during the week, then sleeping in a bit on Saturday morning is fine. But when a substantial sleep debt adds up, you simply won’t be able to effectively catch up over the weekend.

If you sleep 6 hours a week Monday through Friday, then try to catch up by sleeping 12 hours a night on the weekend, you will end up throwing off your sleep schedule and may find it difficult to get to sleep at the proper time on Sunday night.

So, to repay your debt and prevent a future deficit, the best method is to structure your week to allow adequate time for a full night’s rest – every night.

That also means following proper sleep hygiene by setting a regular sleep schedule, avoiding nighttime smartphone use, etc.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be caught up in no time, and on your way to a more rested, more healthy life!

Austin Meadows

Austin Meadows is a freelance writer, CPAP user, and self-proclaimed sleep enthusiast from the Seattle area. When he's not writing or researching about sleep science, you can find him snowboarding, cooking or traveling the world. Contact him at [email protected]

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