So how can we pay our sleep debt when we have accumulated many many hours of sleep debt by sleeping 5 hours every night for several weeks (or even months), with no naps or siestas?
In order to repay this huge sleep debt, we obviously have to dedicate more than 8 hours of sleep per day. The question is: For how long?
Although we do have to sleep more than the normal daily requirement to pay our debt, when it is a big one we do not need to repay it in a one-to-one ratio, let’s take the following scenarios:
A girl has been sleeping around 6 hours per day in the past week, her sleep debt adds up to 12 hours. She doesn’t need to sleep 9 hours per day for 12 days to repay the debt on a 1:1 ratio, instead, with 3 to 4 days she sleeps those 9 hours, and continuing to sleep her normal need of 8 hour per day, she will be recovered, fresh and ready to function right.
Let’s think of a boy who has had bad sleep habits for several years. This situation has increased his sleep debt up to a thousand hours. He needs to repay his debt, but he will not need to sleep 9 to 10 hours per day for years. Instead his body can recover with just a few weeks of 9 to 10 hours of sleep per day.
How does our body recover from a large sleep debt in just a few weeks of extra sleep? In these cases, our body sleeps more efficiently as it spends less sleep time in the first stages of sleep, and uses more sleep time in deep sleep because this type of sleep is the one that contributes the most to our mental and physical recovery. Once our debt has been paid, our sleep cycle gets back to normal.
How do we know we have paid our large sleep debt? When we wake up feeling recuperated, fresh, focused, and not sleepy all day long.