How long does it take to repay sleep debt?

7 min readJun 21, 2020
Image Source: Shutterstock, purchased for usage

If sleep were a credit card company, a lot of us would have been under heavy debts. A majority of the population fails at the simple task of getting adequate sleep, exposing themselves to health risks like obesity, cardiac diseases and diabetes.

Sleep is a restorative activity — while you sleep, your brain organizes information and repairs your body and any damage it sustains. New pathways are created in your brain to help you navigate the day ahead. Sleeping also heals and repairs the circulatory system, including blood vessels and the heart.

According to a study from 2016, one hour of lost sleep can be fully recovered in four days. Most people don’t just lose an hour of sleep but rather develop a chronic habit of missing out on their sleep cycle.

What is Sleep Deficit?

Sleep deficiency is the condition of not receiving the adequate levels of sleep needed for proper cognitive functions of the body. It can be either chronic or acute and can vary in intensity from person to person.

People miss out on sleep due to varying reasons like school responsibilities, prolonged work hours and frequent use of gadgets or smartphones.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

One needs to remember that not every human needs the same amount of sleep to recover. Some function conveniently on 7 hours while others might need 8–9 hours to be present and work well through the day.

To understand your sleep cycle, sleep for different time periods and take a record of how you feel the next day. You can only catch up on any lost sleep to a very truncated extent. Statistics indicate that we can catch up 20 hours of missed sleep by one to two-hour increments at a time and not in one block.

People often have bad bedtime habits and succumb to them without even realising how much it takes away from their health. You need to focus on having a deeper insight into your sleeping habits to truly extrapolate what the delay in your bedtime does to your body.

How Does Sleep Debt Work?

People often confuse sleep debt as something that’s chronic and long-lasting. However, many people experience it for a short phase.

Some stay awake at late hours doing meaningless activities and wake up early to rush to their workplace. Some are forced to stay up late to counter the pressure of meeting deadlines and the stress that comes along.

Short-term sleep loss can be recovered from swiftly, however, that is not the case when it comes to chronic sleep deprivation.

You can’t just make up for all the sleep lost over the week by sleeping more over the weekends. That ideology only works when sleep is deprived for a day or two. Sleep deprivation can also be due to insomnia which might require medical attention.

How To Repay Sleep Debt?

Here are a few tips to get back on normal sleep schedule if your sleep deprivation is temporary and not induced over a consistent period of time:

  • Power Nap — Take a power nap of 20 minutes in the early afternoon. This will help you regain a bit of your lost sleep. It will also help you get through the day tirelessly.
  • Weekend Sleep — Sometimes, it gets increasingly difficult to take in a full sleep cycle; hence you can repay your sleep debt over the week by sleeping for longer hours on weekends. However, it is recommended to sleep not more than 2 hours than the usual time you wake up.
  • Go to bed early — A lot of us hate to go to bed early either due to work or the urge to scroll through Instagram or Facebook one last time. However, going to bed early might sound cliched, yet it is one of the most significant factors to take into account.

The above-mentioned tips are only helpful if your sleep debt is transient and manifested only recently.

To repay your chronic sleep debt, you need more than just power naps and extra weekend sleep.

A few tips mentioned below can help you get enough sleep in the long run and improve upon your bedtime habits:

  • Increase your sleep time — It is difficult to suddenly increase your sleep time by sleeping an hour or two early. Instead, sleep 15 minutes before you usually go to bed each night until you reach your desired bedtime.
  • Avoid oversleeping — Oversleeping can often result in inflicting more damage than actual good. Hence, avoid sleeping over 2 hours once you snooze your wake-up alarm clock.
  • Reconsider your schedule — Many of us don’t pay attention to work or other errands that might be keeping us too late. It is advisable that you make a list of all events or activities in the evening that take up too much time, thereby keeping you up late.
  • Avoid caffeine — It should come as no surprise if you cannot sleep early after consuming a large mug of coffee or drinking that caffeine-rich soda at a late-night party. Cut caffeine intake if avoiding it at all, is not possible for you.

Cognitive Therapy for Sleep

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), is an effective treatment for chronic sleep problems and is regarded as the first line of treatment in case of diagnosis of insomnia or other chronic sleep problems.

CBIT-I is a structured program that enables you to segregate and replace thoughts and behaviours that primarily cause sleep problems with habits, that promote peaceful sleep. CBT-I is proficient in obliterating underlying stress due to sleeping disorders without administering sleeping pills.

How Does It Work?

Cognitive therapy helps you eliminate negative thoughts that often hinder your precious sleep cycle and keeps you awake at odd hours. It helps you recognize and change such thoughts with ease.

The behavioural therapy helps you develop good sleep habits and decimate behaviours that take-the-edge-off of your sleeping schedule.

Some of the sleep therapy techniques include -

  • Stimulus control therapy — This methodology helps regulate factors that cause your mind to resist the urge to sleep. Your mind is subjected to a lot of thoughts and happenings playing on a loop. This often keeps you busy late at night and disrupts the natural bedtime.
  • Sleep restriction — Lying in bed while being wide awake is a habit inevitably leading to poor sleep. This treatment cuts down the time you spend in bed, causing partial sleep deprivation, which makes you more fatigued the next night. Once your sleep improves, your time in bed is eventually increased.
  • Sleep hygiene — This therapy involves changing your lifestyle habits that alter sleep, including smoking or higher caffeine consumption, drinking too much alcohol, or not exercising regularly. It also provides tips that help you sleep better.
  • Remaining passively awake — Also called paradoxical intention, this involves avoiding any effort to fall asleep. Paradoxically, the one factor causing you to stay awake is the worry of you not being able to sleep. Letting go of this conundrum will calm your nerves and make it easier to fall asleep.
  • Biofeedback — This method lets you record biological signs such as heart rate and muscle tension and teaches you how to tweak them. Your sleep specialist may have you take a biofeedback device home to record your daily patterns. This information can help to identify sleep-depriving patterns.

Sleep Sanctuary

Getting plenty of rest to jump start your day is paramount. This can be achieved by receiving a good night’s sleep. There are numerous factors, like sleep hygiene and bedtime habits that alter our sleep course.

Here are a few protocols that can help you build a decent sleep sanctuary:

  1. Keep it cool — Personal preferences may vary, however, it is recommended to keep your room at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A room that is too hot or humid can interfere with the dip in the temperature of the body that is associated with the later stages of sleep. At times, disorders like insomnia have been linked to the ambient room temperature.
  2. Mattress and Pillow — Selecting a mattress or a pillow that is either too soft or too stiff can cause a lack of support to the back and neck and lead to problems more than just sleeping disorders. One can even pick cooling pillows to regulate ideal temperatures.
  3. Scent up the ambience — You should spray your sleeping area with a decent fragrance using a room freshener. This would help eliminate and suppress any unpleasant odours. The National Institutes of Health research has proven that using lavender oil reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.
  4. Keep gadgets away — We all are victims of being enslaved by our temptations of using gadgets late night and missing out on the much-needed sleep. Self-control is not always viable for some. It is advisable to keep all your electronics someplace separate where you cannot reach while lying down. Stop using your gadgets 2 hours before hitting the bed.
  5. Adjust ambient light — Keep the room dark when you hit the bed and make it gradually lighter as you approach waking time to take advantage of the body’s natural rhythm. This can be as simple as leaving your curtains open or installing an automatic wake-up light.
  6. Embrace White Noise — Ambient white noise eliminates the background sounds and disturbing noises, making it easier to sleep with serenity. Household items like fans and air purifiers produce white noise that help you sleep effectively.

Final Words

The masses out there have adopted the ideology of minimising their sleep schedule to prioritise work. People have started being negligent towards their health.

In today’s challenging times, people are focusing more on delivering results at work or school. However, depriving yourself of enough sleep can and will degrade your ability to perform better. Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of health problems and behavioural issues.

Luckily, sleep debt can be repaid. Simple changes to your routine allow you to get to bed earlier or stay in bed longer. Repaying sleep debt can be a challenging task if it is chronic, however, this is not impossible to achieve.

Simply improvising upon your bedtime habits can bring about significant changes. Choosing the correct mattresses and pillows can be equally important. You can also opt for cognitive sleep therapy in case of sleep disorders.

You can maintain a comfortable sleep sanctuary for better sleep and hence, repay your sleep debt over the course of time.




Wakefit is a research and innovation driven sleep solutions company founded with a vision to democratize sleep in India.