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The Do's and Don'ts of Overcoming Sleep Deprivation


calendar-iconFebruary 5, 2019

Foundational Sleep Series


It can be all too easy to have nights where you don't get a good night's rest.  Even the most disciplined individuals who implement the most important variables of optimal sleep with a great sleep routine will sometimes find themselves without a full nights rest.

A series of restless nights with poor sleep can result in sleep deprivation.

At least a third of people in the US are sleep deprived.1,2 Studies show that most people overestimate how much sleep they're getting. With that said, there's a good chance that you have some sleep debt to make up for before getting into a healthy circadian rhythm.1,2

So what's the best way to deal with sleep deprivation? In this post, we'll outline the guidelines you should follow to work through sleeping problems and how to implement sleep deprivation cures that promote optimal sleep patterns.

Sleep Debt, and How To Repay It

Don't try to make up for large sleep losses during the week by sleeping in on the weekend. This is like trying to get fit or lose weight by doing all your exercising or dieting on  Saturday and Sundays.


In general, the minimum hours of sleep needed is for every 2 hours that you're awake, you need 1 hour of sleep (a 2:1 ratio). This is a good way to know how much sleep you need. If you violate this rule, you begin to accumulate sleep debt, and you suffer the disadvantages of sleep deprivation.3

To recover this debt, it is best to make up for lost sleep gradually over a number of days, as opposed to all in one night. If you sleep in several hours later than usual, you'll find it harder to get to sleep that night, and a vicious cycle begins. Gradual reduction of sleep debt ensures the least disturbance to your biological clock, which should be your first priority.

Steady progress in working through sleeplessness is the best way for how to sleep better.

The Afternoon Nap: The Secret Weapon to Optimal Rest

The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood.


Napping can also be a great strategy to make up your sleep debt (especially if you can't sleep at night). For a quick boost in energy, mood, and performance, a 20-minute nap can be effective. This allows for the first two stages of sleep without slipping into N3 (deep sleep) and waking up groggy and drowsy.4,5

If you have the time, a longer 90-minute nap can also be beneficial and help you recoup a cycle of N3 and REM sleep. 90 minutes is just enough time to cycle through all the stages of sleep once and arrive at the N2 stage without feeling groggy.3

It is important to note that you should avoid taking a long nap late in the day, as this can make it difficult to get to sleep that night.

Pro tip to help you fall asleep for a nap: Aim to take your longer naps in the early afternoon after lunch when your blood sugar is dropping naturally.3

This will make it easier to fall asleep, and have minimal interference with your bedtime later that day.

The Takeaway

When you're dealing with sleep debt, its best to pay it off ASAP in a gradual fashion.

You can accomplish this by:

  • Heading to bed a bit earlier
  • Waking up a bit later
  • Grabbing that coveted afternoon nap for either a brief 20 minutes or a longer hour and a half.

All of these are natural ways to help sleep.


  1. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 May 2017, link
  2. Lauderdale DS, Knutson KL, Yan LL, Liu K, Rathouz PJ. Self-reported and measured sleep duration: how similar are they?. Epidemiology. 2008;19(6):838-45. link
  3. Maas, James B., et al. Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know about Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask. Author House, 2011.
  4. National Sleep Foundation. “Napping.” National Sleep Foundation, link
  5. Ware, Arista. “What Is the Ideal Nap Length.” Sleep.Org, Sleep.Org, 28 Oct. 2014, link
Date Created: February 5, 2019

Last Updated: April 2, 2020

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