Think of your body as a bank, and each night you’re depositing a set amount of money into it. If you miss your “payment” one night, you’ll owe more money the next night to make up for it. Sleep deprivation accumulates in this way. “For someone well-rested, missing one hour of sleep on one night often has quite a minimal impact,” said Alex Dimitru, a double board-certified doctor specializing in psychiatry and sleep medicine. “Over time, however, the missed hours begin to add up.”
In short, the more sleep-deprived you are, the more serious the health effects can become. So, how can you recover from sleep debt? Below you’ll find both short-term and long-term fixes for your sleep debt.
Short-term sleep fixes: If you had a rough night of sleep, your schedule might not allow you to just lay in bed and recover those hours. If that’s the case, you can take a 20-minute nap during the day and try to catch up on the weekends by sleeping longer by a couple of hours. Also, try to go to bed earlier the next night if you’re able to. But don’t feel the need to crash for 12 straight hours—you don’t want to mess up your sleep schedule so much that you’re unable to get back in a consistent routine.
Long-term sleep fixes: Dimitru recommends regular bedtime and waking times for yourself, avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed, and getting treated for any pain or sleep apnea that may be waking you up during the night. TV is also a no-go for Dimitru. Try to avoid screens with blue light that might disrupt your melatonin levels before you go to bed. A cool room helps your body temperature drop more quickly (something your body naturally does to prepare for sleep), so crank up that fan or A/C to create an optimal nighttime environment for yourself.
OTC and prescription sleep medications can help you if you need them, but they’re typically not an ideal substitute for getting natural sleep. Instead, try a sleep-supporting supplement like magnesium,* which promotes a sense of calm and relaxation for deep, restorative sleep.
Lastly, if you love to exercise at night, try moving your daily workout to the morning hours and see if it improves your sleep. Some people do just fine with evening workouts, but everybody is different. You may feel too energized after a sweat session to climb straight into bed, and your sleep could suffer as a result.