How to Pay Off Sleep Debt

Simon Law - you have a sleep debt?

The National Sleep Foundation says a typical adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but over 40% of Americans only get 6.8 hours – 12 minutes shy of the minimum recommendation. A difference of just 12 minutes a night may not seem like a lot, but over time those minutes can add up to a huge sleep debt (especially if you really need eight or nine hours). 

Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to live your best life – from staying safe on the road, to being productive on the job. Over time those deficits can also take a toll on your health, raising your risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and memory loss. And when you’re in the grips of sleep debt, you often don’t even remember what it’s like to feel well rested, so you may not realize just how tired you are. 

"I'll Catch Up On The Weekend" Sleep Debt Strategy

So what do you do if you’ve spent weeks or even years of your life logging fewer hours of sleep than you need? You might think that closing the blinds and turning off your alarm on Saturday morning would do the trick. However, sleeping too much on weekends can actually do more harm than good, throwing you off your circadian rhythm and making it harder to fall asleep on Sunday night. That could mean starting your Monday with an even bigger sleep deficit than before!

Best Way to Pay Off Sleep Debt

The best way to pay off your sleep debt is slow and steady, recapturing that extra 12 minutes and getting closer to 8 hours as consistently as possible. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Track Your Time

If it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, let alone get an extra 12 minutes of sleep, tracking exactly how you spend your time each day for a week may help you uncover extra minutes – or even hours. 

Start With Bedtime 

Rather than sleeping in later, which can make it harder to fall asleep the next night, go to bed 15 minutes earlier and wake up at your normal time. Just like putting kids to bed, make your bedtime, and the rituals around it, "non-negotiable." 

Use Power Naps 

Napping can be a quick way to take a few hours off your sleep debt, but if you nap too long in the afternoon, it could affect falling asleep at night. For the best rejuvenation, go for a 10-20-minute power nap. According to Daniel Pink, author of “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” a “nappachino” is best started about 7 hours after waking. A nappachino is a nap preceded by a cup of coffee. Caffeine takes about 25 minutes to engage in your bloodstream, so drink up right before you lie down. When you wake up, the caffeine is beginning to kick in. Mr. Pink says "there’s evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers," so if you are able to repeat this afternoon ritual consistently, you can pay off your sleep debt more faster and more efficently.

Commit to Healthier Sleep Habits

Once you figure out how much sleep you need to feel well rested during the day, think about what changes you need to make to reach your goal. Would making dinner ahead of time with a slow cooker, or ordering healthy takeout more often help you get to bed earlier? Would exercising in the morning instead of after work help you wind down in the evenings? What happens when you leave your social media, email and other screens outside of the bedroom? Before long you’re likely to see a dramatic change in your overall energy level from making room for an extra 12 minutes of sleep per day.

More Sleep Debt Solutions

If you've tried these techniques and are still having trouble paying off your sleep debt, please contact Dr. Stern at (203) 335-0020 for a consultation, to see if there are underlying physical issues contributing to your sleep habits.


About Dr. Gloria Maczuga-Stern

Dr. Gloria Maczuga-Stern has practiced general dentistry in New York and Connecticut for 19 years. Her own personal experience with TMD led her to pursue further training for her pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients. At the Center for Sleep & TMJ Disorders she has been providing conservative, non-invasive treatment to patients with sleep breathing and temporomandibular joint disorders since 2008.

Dr. Stern strives to provide her patients with the highest level of care. Passionate about continuous education, she has over 2,500 hours of advanced education including orofacial pain, tmj disorders, and sleep disorder dentistry. As a result she is able to offer her patients the latest advancements in this field.

Dr. Stern received advanced training in temporomandibular disorders and sleep disorder dentistry from the Institute of TMD and Sleep Disorders and the Craniofacial Pain Center at Tufts University, and is a Diplomate of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine as well as a Certificate holder of the of American Academy of Integrative Pain Management.

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