Can We Pay back Sleep Debt?

by Tiffanie Grady-Gillespie, Certified Physical Trainer, Certified Corporate Wellness Coach, WickedFiTT

We are all guilty. Staying up late binge-watching our favorite movies when we should be sleeping. The new term being thrown around is sleep procrastination.

What we are all doing is building up sleep debt — the difference between the amount of sleep we need and the amount we actually get. One hour here and there may not seem like a big deal, but sleep debt is cumulative and can become dangerous.


Sleep is — after a healthy diet and regular exercise — the third pillar of health. When we accumulate sleep debt, we risk health consequences.

I am going to concentrate on the physical symptoms of sleep deprivation. Physical problems related to poor sleep include fatigue, physical stress, immune system dysfunction, worsened vision, weight gain, advanced aging, and the big one — systemic inflammation.

This one leads to major health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans need about 7.1 hours of sleep per night to feel good, but 73% of us just can’t seem to do it. Between our social lives, our social media lives, our electronics, and working late from home, we find excuses to stay awake a little later than we should.

If you are feeling like you may be in sleep debt, here are a few tips that may help:

  • Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach your bedtime.
  • Don’t sleep later than two hours past normal wake-up time, even on weekends.
  • Keep electronics in a separate room.
  • Stop using electronics two hours before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool enough.
  • Avoid caffeine late at night.
  • Exercise no later than three hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid naps outside of 20-minute power naps.
  • If pets are an issue, keep the pets off of the bed at night.

The good news is that getting enough sleep can reverse sleep debt. It’s never too late to adopt a healthy sleep routine.