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Sleep science

Can we recover from sleep debt?

I have been studying sleep for a long time. Dealing with many different types of patients.

I even worked at Harvard labs doing studies around astronauts’ sleep and blue light. And, a really interesting subject that comes up is sleep debt.

Our natural tendency

As humans, we feel that we need to recover when we haven’t slept enough. That we need to recover an eye for an eye… Four hours recovery sleep for a four hour sleep debt.

Actually, it’s not that simple

Firstly, you’re never going to recover some of the stuff you lost from not sleeping.
Your brain is super smart and, sometimes, it doesn’t need you to recover four hours because you lost four hours.

Usually, it’s excellent at figuring out what stages of sleep you missed (or lacking), and increasing the amount of that sleep stage, rather than increasing the duration.

Lastly, if you try to recover from sleep debt too much consistently over time. For example, you don’t think you’re sleeping enough at night so you spend a lot of time outside of your usual sleep opportunity, perhaps by going to bed early or by lying in or napping…

If so, you actually start desynchronising from your natural sleep wake cycle.

This leads to confusing your brain and building a pattern we often see as chronic insomnia.

So, sleep debt is not quite as simple as we first thought…