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Catching enough Zs

6 tips to get out of sleep debt.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

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"I’m tired,” is a common refrain. And it’s no wonder – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of American adults are in sleep debt, meaning they don’t get the rest they need.

Not getting enough sleep every now and then is normal, but chronic sleep deprivation (lasting for three months or longer) can increase your risk of a number of conditions, from anxiety and depression to high blood pressure and even heart disease.

“Sleep is just as important as exercise and a healthy diet,” said Peter Nassar, MD, a sleep medicine specialist with Baptist Health. “But most people don’t make it a priority.”

Getting too little shut-eye can also affect your weight.

“Without enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger, and less leptin, which makes you feel satisfied after a meal. This results in extra weight gain,” said Dr. Nassar.

How much is enough?

Everyone’s sleep needs are different.

“The amount you should get is whatever makes you feel rested. For adults, anywhere between 6 and 9 hours is normal, with the average being 7.5,” said Dr. Nassar.

Sleep debt signs

Feeling tired when waking is an obvious clue, but so are forgetfulness and poor concentration. And no doubt, lack of sleep wreaks havoc with your emotions. (Just ask your family and friends!)

“Mood and sleep are closely intertwined,” said Emily White, PhD, a Baptist Behavioral Health clinical psychologist who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine. “If you’re feeling more irritable, unmotivated, anxious or sad, getting better sleep could be the answer.”

That can be extremely difficult for those with insomnia, who toss and turn even when they have plenty of time to sleep. On the other hand, people in sleep debt often don’t schedule enough time for sleep or get sidetracked.

“Being more intentional about your sleep routines can help,” Dr. White said.

Pay off your debt

Here are six simple ways to get more rest:

  1. Get on a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends! Consistency is key.

  2. Create a routine. Try doing the same things every night to calm down, like reading, stretching or taking a warm bath.

  3. Set boundaries. Guard your sleep – don’t let work or social commitments rob you of your slumber. Preserve the full time you need

    to feel rested.

  4. Make your bedroom comfortable. A dark space between 65 and 70 degrees is ideal.

  5. Exercise. Make it a point every day, but avoid working out within 2-3 hours of bedtime.

  6. Limit caffeine to morning only.

What not to do

It may be tempting to nap or try to catch up on your slumber to get out of sleep debt, but many times, these remedies backfire.

“You need to build up enough ‘sleep pressure’ to get restorative sleep,” explained Dr. Nassar. Sleep pressure accumulates in the body the longer you’re awake and expending energy.

“Some people try to sleep more than the recommended amount to catch up on their sleep. This can disturb your circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural sleep and waking cycle,” said Dr. Nassar. “Most people will recover with three days of adequate sleep time.”

"Naps are a highly debated topic,” Dr. Nassar added. “A brief 20-minute nap can help you feel better, but excessive napping often leads to decreased sleep pressure and more waking at night.”

When to see a doctor

If sleep debt becomes a problem for three months or more, it’s time to make an appointment. Your physician will likely try behavioral changes, but sometimes medication can be a short-term solution. A sleep study may help to get the root of your sleep disorder, as well.


If you’re suffering from sleep debt, a sleep medicine specialist can help. To make an appointment with Dr. White, call 904.376.3800. For Dr. Nassar, call 904.854.6899.

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