Can You Ever Catch Up On Sleep Debt?

One of the bitter facts of life today is that with the rising levels of stress and our busy schedules, none of us are actually able to manage to get a good eight hours of sleep in the night, or most of the nights. We all know that when we spend a better part of the night tossing and turning and waiting for sleep to finally hit us, we are likely going to be spending the next day feeling grumpy and groggy, similar to how one feels when they are hungover. Research has already shown that missing out on the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night is going to cost you in the long-run. The effects of long-term sleep deprivation are very much real as it drains you of your mental abilities and also puts you at physical risk. However, is it possible to make up for a missed night of sleep the following night? Is it possible to ever catch up on sleep debt? Let’s find out if you can actually make up for lost sleep or not.

Can You Ever Catch Up On Sleep Debt?

Catching Up On Lost Sleep?

Is it possible to indeed make up for one night of missed sleep the following night? The answer is surprising yes. If you need to get up early for some work on one morning, then sleeping in late the next day will help you recover the missed sleep.

This happens because sleep is a restorative activity. During the time period that you are asleep, your brain is busy cataloging information and also carrying out the necessary processes in the body that heals the body. The brain during this downtime decides what information and data are important enough to be filed away and held onto for a later date and what information is useless and can be let go of. Your brain also creates new pathways during the time you sleep. These new pathways help you plan and navigate the next day. Sleeping is also required for the body to heal and repair the heart and your blood vessels.

While catching up on a missed night’s sleep is not the same thing as getting the requisite amount of sleep for that night to begin it, it still means that when you catch up on your missed sleep, you are still giving your body the extra time it requires to recover and heal.

However, the shocking part is that it takes four days for the body to completely recover from just one hour of lost sleep. This was revealed in research published in 2016 by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, in Japan.

The fact is that all of us are chronically losing sleep instead of just once in a while. This is what creates a sleep deficit, meaning that it becomes harder and harder for our body to catch up on this much amount of missed sleep and also rapidly increasing the chances of sleep deprivation symptoms.

Understanding Sleep Deficit

The amount of time you spend sleeping is similar to a savings bank account. When you are not getting enough time to sleep, this time gets withdrawn and needs to be repaid. When this transforms into chronic sleep debt, you are unable to ever catch up to this missed time of sleep.

Research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that on an average, an adult needs 7.1 hours of sleep every night to feel refreshed and rejuvenated the next morning. Over 70 percent of us fall short of meeting this requirement on a regular basis. This could be due to many factors, such as:

  • School and work responsibilities
  • Long working hours
  • Increases use of electronics such as smartphones before bedtime
  • A long night of partying

Most people also assume that they will make up for the time lost sleeping on the weekends. However, sleeping too long over the weekends also ensures that it becomes difficult to go back to bed on a Sunday night at the correct time. The deficit then spills over and continues well into the next week.

Several studies have effectively proven the many negative effects on our health due to sleep deprivation. Not only can chronic sleep deprivation increase the risk for diabetes, but it also weakens the immune system and contributes to high blood pressure. You also end up having higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can cause depression, anger, and even suicidal thoughts and manic episodes. Drowsiness is also likely to increase the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel of the car while driving to work and returning in the night.

How To Make Up For Lost Sleep?

To begin with, not every individual is created the same and therefore, not everyone needs the exact same number of sleeping hours every night. Some people can feel refreshed with just six hours of sleep, while even nine hours of sleep can prove to be less for some individuals. In order to understand just how much sleep you need, it is better to look at how you feel the next day after trying out different hours of sleep.

It is also possible to figure out just how much sleep you need by letting your body sleep as much as needed during the course of a couple of days. You then naturally allow the body to enter the best sleep rhythm, which you can then continue after you have determined just how many hours of sleep you need.

If you have missed getting the required hours of sleep, then you can try the following to make up for it:

  • Go to bed a little earlier than the previous night.
  • Sleep in for a longer time in the following one or two nights.
  • Sleep during the weekends, but no longer than two hours past the usual time you get up in the mornings.
  • Try to take a power nap of just 20 minutes during the early afternoon.

If you are already suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, though, these tips are unlikely to help much. Instead, making healthy sleeping changes that you can continue over a longer period of time will come in handy.


It is often quite tempting to sleep as little as possible to get through the day and cram in as much work as you possibly can. However, your body is ultimately paying the price for these missed hours of sleep. Today’s work culture has made it the norm to put a good night’s sleep on the back seat. Understand the negative and harmful effects sleep deprivation has on the body and that it will actually make you perform worse at either your work or at school. It is possible to reverse sleep debt and certain small changes can allow you to catch up on the missed hours of sleep easily so that you feel refreshed the following day.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 23, 2023

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