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How to Repay Your Sleep Debt


“If healthy young men are restricted to 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights instead of their usual 8, they build up 24 hours of ‘Sleep Debt’. With this buildup in ‘Sleep Debt’, their metabolism becomes prematurely ‘aged’ and changes in a manner consistent with increased body fat accumulation.”


“If at this point these young men are allowed to sleep 12 hours a night for 6 days—repaying the entire debt—the metabolic changes are reversed.”

Body by Design, Health by Choice, Dr. Gregory Kelly and Dr. Mark Percival

So how is a sleep debt repaid? The tips listed below should help you pay back the debt on your sleep bank account and develop good sleep habits!

The best way to pay back your sleep debt is by planning out a “sleep vacation” for a couple weeks. First, decide what your sleep needs are. If 8 hours is the perfect amount of sleep for you, plan to get 8 hours of sleep a night for a week. At the end of one week, assess how you feel and decide whether you need to add more hours. If you feel better, (using the sleep debt questionnaire may help decide this), than keep your new routine. If you are still tired after sleeping 8 hours a night, your body is still in debt, and is growing deeper in debt. You need to sleep more than 8 consistent hours temporarily, until you have repaid the debt.

You can do this by using a slow repayment method or a fast one. The goal is to wake before your alarm (they disrupt the final sleep cycle) and to start feeling better throughout the day.

For the slow repayment method, make small adjustments to your bedtime and morning routine. Do you usually go to sleep at 11 and wake at 6? Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier (10:30). If, after a week, you are still being awakened by your alarm clock, try going to bed an hour earlier (10:00). Keep adding time until you consistently start waking up before your alarm.

The fast repayment method is best done on a vacation. For 1-2 weeks, make sleep a priority. Go to sleep as early as possible and sleep for as late as possible. Take naps during the day when you feel sleepy. Your body will naturally settle on the perfect amount of sleep (usually 7-9 hours). The goal is to wake before your alarm clock each morning, and sleep the same amount of time every night. Most people will feel even more tired after sleeping this much, but this is to be expected. Getting a lot of sleep does not actually make you more tired, it simply uncovers the problem.

 Remember: “When people are deliberately deprived of sleep during research experiments, they initially notice the effects on their alertness, mood, physical performance, and sleepiness. After a few days they get used to feeling sleepy—they adapt—and being tired feels normal. Because of this tendency to get used to not getting enough sleep, most of us are very poor judges of how tired we really are.”

Shape Shift, Dr. Gregory Kelly and Dr. Mark Percival


20 Tips for Sleeping Well:

1. Create a consistent sleep/wake schedule.

2. Eat breakfast and lunch at around the same time every day.

 3. Don’t eat before you sleep. Eat your last meal/snack 3-4 hours before bed.

4. Go outside! Get at least 5-15 of sunlight exposure every morning (even on a cloudy day).

5. Get exposure to natural light as much as possible. Some experts have said that the average person need 3 hours of sunlight daily. (This does not mean that you should sunbathe for 3 hours. You can get quality light by sitting in the shade or inside with the windows open. Even glass can disrupt the quality of light since it filters out some frequencies. Sitting by closed windows or wearing glasses or contacts outside does not count.

6. Avoid caffeine 5 hours prior to bedtime.

7. Avoid alcohol and smoke exposure several hours prior to bedtime.

8. Take a warm bath or shower about 90 minutes before bedtime. (The warm water will make your body temperature increase and then drop, giving your body a sleep signal.)

9. Get a regular amount of appropriate exercise.

10. Keep your feet warm with socks.

11. Chamomile tea (especially with a little lemon and honey) is a natural stress-reducer. Have a cup in the evening.

12. Get rid of stressful thoughts. Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal before bed to quiet your busy brain.

13. Keep your bedroom cave-like. Cover all bright lights and cover up unpleasant background noise with devices that play nature sounds.

14. If there are no streetlights outside, sleep with curtains and shades open to get exposure to moonlight and sunrise (they act as cues to your body clock).

15. Spend less time with the computer and television after dark.

16. If noise and temperature outside permits, crack a window for fresh air. Clean out the air toxins!

17. Minimize EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure before bed and during sleep. EMF disrupts melatonin, so sleep away from electromagnetic devices.

18. Keep your pajamas loose and 100% natural. (Bedding should also be natural.) Synthetic fibers are thought to create EMF.

19. After you repay your sleep debt, keep your naps to about 30 minutes in the afternoon. Naps are good, but naps that are too long can interfere with nighttime sleep.

20. Get outside around sunset/at night for a few minutes. This is very important for the female body clock, because a woman’s hormonal cycle is connected to moon cycles.

This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone immediately.

Dr. David Haase

Dr. Haase is the Founder and CEO of MaxWell Clinic- a Collaborative-Care, Functional Medicine Clinic. He is committed to finding and addressing the underlying causes of illness in his patients.