Sleep 101: Can you repay “sleep debt?”

If sleep were a credit card company, most of us would be in trouble. Regardless of the cause, sleep debt is the accumulated amount of sleep loss from insufficient sleep.

Can you repay “sleep debt?”

Whether it’s due to a new Netflix series you can’t stop binging on or extra hours at the office, sacrificing sleep Monday through Friday is something we all do, more often than we’d like to admit. Lose an hour every night and you’re faced with five hours of sleep debt once the weekend hits.

Think sleeping in late on a Saturday will help?

Think again.

The problem with stocking up on sleep on the weekend is that it’s won’t necessarily erase your debt. Some experts say you can “repay” a sleep debt to some degree, but not in big chunks of time.

It is best to stay on a regular sleep schedule (yes, even on the weekends), as our circadian rhythm works best with regularity.

If you tend to sleep late on weekends, you may find that it becomes harder to fall asleep come Sunday night. This only starts your work week off on the wrong side of the bed.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests the best way to bounce back from your stockpile of sleep debt is to spread it out. Be persistent and hit the hay a little earlier every night for a week or more but keep your wake time the same. Daytime naps may also help you play catch-up without disrupting your flow.

Read more on “How to Create a Bedtime Routine.

What about shift workers?

But, for the 22 million of Americans who work a “nonstandard” schedule — evening or night shifts or rotating days off — it can be especially challenging to get sufficient sleep. The best thing shift workers can do is to start tracking sleep patterns to ensure you’re logging enough hours. Also, aim to optimize their sleep environment (ex: blackout shades and cool temperatures), control the caffeine intake, nap when needed and sleep disrupting reduce blue light from cell phones.

Check out our series on sleep for more information: