Tired of feeling tired? Use your vacation to pay back your sleep debt

You miss an hour of sleep here, an hour there.  And pretty soon, you're so tired, you don't even realize you’re tired.

"Sleep-deprived people lose the ability to know they're sleep-deprived,” says Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist,   “So you get so used to that foggy-headed, head-not-right feeling that that becomes your new norm."

Most sleep experts say we need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night.  But polls show many of us don't get the recommended amount of sleep.  And Dr. Bergquist says they call that chronic lack of sleep, "sleep debt." 

So, you would think the logical fix for missing sleep during the workweek would be to sleep late on the weekend.

"In reality, it doesn't really work that way,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “So, you can't really just recover from one good sleep-in."

Because, if you do the math,  the sleep debt adds up.  If you're missing an hour of sleep each work or school night, that's 5 hours of sleep debt by the time the weekend comes around.

"One good sleep in on the weekend may be 1 to 2 hours, or a good nap can add about an hour,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “But, you still have that sleep debt.  So you haven't fully recovered."

But, there may be a way to start paying back your sleep debt on your next vacation. Start by turning off your alarm clock.

"Let your body go to sleep at night when you feel tired, and then let your body wake up in the morning without an alarm clock,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “Because, initially, when you're trying to make up that sleep debt, you can sleep up to 10 hours a night."

By following your natural body clock and resting up, Bergquist says you can start to slip back into a more healthy sleep schedule.

“Try and make up 1 to 2 hours each night,” she says.  “But it's a longer-term process.  The same way that debt has accumulated over time, you have to pay back the debt very slowly."