Is there a way to pay off sleep debt?

Ever wake up feeling more tired than you were before you went to bed? Or you can’t seem to keep your eyes open at work or school? Can’t wait until the next nap?  You’re in sleep debt.

Unfortunately, a large portion of people know what that feels like. Our stressors keep us awake or a loud neighbor. Maybe there’s no clear reason you’re not sleeping, it just happens. Whatever the case, there’s a sleep debt that you want to pay back, but you’re not sure how. 

Can you even pay that back? 

The good news is that, according to Scientific American, you can. “…like all debt, with some work, sleep debt can be repaid—though it won’t happen in one extended snooze marathon. Tacking on an extra hour or two of sleep a night is the way to catch up.” (2008, Webster). 

The cost of sleep debt


But is this really that big of an issue? 

Yes it is. Just look at the statistics from the previous source. “A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation reports that, on average, Americans sleep 6.9 hours per night—6.8 hours during the week and 7.4 hours on the weekends. Generally, experts recommend eight hours of sleep per night, although some people may require only six hours of sleep while others need ten. That means on average, we’re losing one hour of sleep each night—more than two full weeks of slumber every year.”

That’s a lot of sleep lost per year. No wonder we feel tired all the time. 

There are also major health consequences to losing sleep. First, we won’t recognize when we’re in sleep debt. Harvard Medical School says, “In fact, the greater the sleep debt, the less capable we are of recognizing it: Once sleep deprivation — with its fuzzy-headedness, irritability, and fatigue — has us in its sway, we can hardly recall what it’s like to be fully rested.” (Harvard Medical School, 2018). 

At that point it’s becoming too late. Because once we’re living with sleep debt, the health risks grow. Believe it or not, sleep deprivation and sleep disorders can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. 

So, then what’s the solution? 

Solutions to sleep debt

As said above, one of the solutions is adding an hour or two to your nightly sleep schedule, which should eventually pay off that debt. There are a few other solutions that can help get you the sleep that you need. These are not hard-and-fast solutions that help everyone. Try out a few things and see what works best for you. 

  • Avoid caffeine after noon. You may need to suffer that 2 o’clock drag without coffee. 
  • Exercise, but more than a few hours before bed. 
  • Make the bedroom a space for relaxation and sleep. 
  • Avoid screens a couple hours before bed. 
  • Keep the sleeping space cool at night. 
  • Try not to take naps, but if you have to, take shorter ones. 

If you’re still not sleeping well, then it might be time to seek a medical professional. At the Ear, Nose and Throat Institute, we can do sleep studies either in-clinic or at-home for your convenience. Then, we can find out if you have sleep apnea, allowing us to create the perfect solution for you. 

To schedule a same-day or Saturday appointment call 770-740-1860 or fill out the form at the top of the page. 


Webster, M., (2008, May 6th) Can You Catch Up on Lost Sleep? [Health Article] Retrieved on June 8th, 2020 from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-can-you-catch-up-on-sleep/#:~:text=The%20good%20news%20is%20that,the%20way%20to%20catch%20up.

Harvard Medical School (2018, May 9th) Repaying your sleep debt [Health Blog] Retrieved on June 8th, 2020 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/repaying-your-sleep-debt