Lack of quality sleep often results in sleep debt. Here’s how to pay it off and keep your sleep account in the black.

Seven to nine hours — it’s the magic (and recommended) amount of slumber most adults need for a healthy body and mind. Yet, according to the CDC, more than a third of adults in the United States don’t get enough daily rest. 

A lack of consistent, quality sleep eventually takes a toll, often resulting in grogginess, increased irritability, exhaustion, and general malaise. Regular, insufficient rest also contributes to sleep debt. 

Here are signs you might owe yourself sleep, and tips for paying it off.


What Is Sleep Debt?

Sleep debt, also called sleep deficit, is the cumulative cost of not getting enough shuteye for several days. The phenomenon starts to take effect after multiple nights of total sleep loss or partial sleep loss, when a person gets six hours of slumber or less a night.  

For example, suppose your body needs seven hours of sleep to recover, restore, and recharge, but you only get five hours a day; then you’ll clock two hours of sleep debt per day for a total of 14 hours of lost sleep a week. 

And as sleep debt builds up, physical and mental functioning dwindle. Signs that may indicate you’re sleep-deprived include:

  • Sleeping excessively during the day
  • Persistent tiredness
  • Sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Sleepiness 
  • Reduced alertness
  • Mood changes
  • Forgetfulness or problems remembering
  • Restlessness 

Sleep loss is also linked to serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, anxiety, and depression. 

woman having in tea in bed

Photo courtesy of Avocado Green.

Read more: What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination?

Can You Pay Off Sleep Debt?

The short answer is: yes. According to the CDC, paying down sleep debt is possible simply by sleeping more. But it gets complicated when it comes to combating the effects of sleep loss.

If lack of quality slumber occurs primarily during weekdays, you might consider engaging in weekend recovery sleep to catch up. However, studies suggest this approach to sleep debt doesn’t work for most people. Neither does napping during the day. Naps can improve your functioning and productivity but can’t compensate for lost sleep.

Read more: How to Power Nap Like a Pro

The only way to pay off sleep debt is by consistently getting quality night’s rest every day.

Here’s how to improve your sleep hygiene for deep, restful snoozes.  

  • Follow a consistent sleep and wake schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — weekends included.
  • Prioritize relaxation and quiet time an hour before bedtime. Spend this hour engaging in wind-down activities like a hot bath, creating the next day’s to-do list to take your mind off upcoming responsibilities, stretching, meditating, and turning off electronic devices.
  • Get sunlight first thing in the morning and enjoy physical activity outside during the day.
  • Avoid exposure to bright, artificial light from screens like your TV, tablet, or phone, as it may keep you alert and affect how easily you fall asleep.
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine in the late afternoons and evenings, as these are stimulants that can affect your sleep quality.
  • Avoid alcohol at least three hours before bedtime as it interrupts nighttime rest. Alcohol may help with falling asleep but it can also cause you to wake up repeatedly at night and earlier than usual in the morning.
  • Avoid heavy meals a few hours before bedtime.
  • Create a sleep-friendly bedroom by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet.
  • If you take naps during the day, plan for earlier in the day and limit naptime to no longer than 20 minutes.
woman taking a nap

Photo courtesy of Avocado Green.

Read more: 7 Sleep Myths — Debunked

Have feedback on our story? Email [email protected] to let us know what you think!


Shop Pillows

The Essential Organic Pillow Collection

Gentle, breathable, non-toxic support.

Buy Now