One Prescription for Sleep Debt? A Sleepcation

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Written by: Denise John, PhD


Published on: August 31, 2023


By now, you’ve likely heard about the concept of sleep debt, which is the difference between the amount of sleep our body needs to feel its best and the amount of sleep we actually get. “Say you need seven hours of sleep to feel your best the next day and you get five: The difference, two hours, would be your sleep deficit,” says sleep consultant Kelly Murray, FDN-P. Over time, sleep debt can affect your cognition, metabolism, heart health, blood sugar regulation, immune system, and more. Decreasing your sleep debt allows you to regain energy, improve cognitive function, and repair your health over time.

But if we know we’ve accumulated some sleep debt—life happens!—what can we do about it? To rebalance, Murray recommends planning a sleep vacation (also known as a sleepcation): a period of time dedicated to sleeping well and determining your optimal sleep time.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rejuvenated. Murray says one way to know if you’re getting your ideal amount of sleep is your energy levels: You’ll wake feeling refreshed and have a steady stream of energy throughout the day. (If you consistently need more than nine hours of sleep to feel energized, she suggests you talk with your doctor, because that can be an indicator of an underlying medical condition.)

How long should your sleepcation be? “It typically takes between two and seven days to work off a sleep deficit. And it could be longer if you have long-term insomnia,” Murray says. She usually recommends her clients take about five days. She doesn’t prescribe strict protocols, just some general guidelines.

  • Don’t use an alarm—wake up naturally.
  • Within the first hour of waking, try to get 10 to 20 minutes of sunlight to help regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • During the day, incorporate some form of physical activity—aim for 30 minutes.
  • As you wind down at night, set the tone for a relaxing environment by reading, journaling, or doing whatever puts your mind at ease.
  • For those who get sleep anxiety—where you worry about not getting enough sleep, which prevents you from sleeping—Murray suggests reframing the purpose of bedtime. “Just focus on relaxing,” she says, “and don’t focus on trying to sleep.”

If we were planning a sleepcation for ourselves at home, these are the steps we’d take to maximize comfort and relaxation:

  • 1

    Secure a Luxe Mattress

    Avocado Luxury Organic Mattress, Avocado, starting at $2799

    A comfortable and supportive mattress is a must-have. Even better? One that’s made from nontoxic and organic materials that don’t emit chemical odors or VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Plus, Avocado mattresses’ GOTS-certified organic cotton and wool deliver plush, breathable comfort. The main reason we’d prefer to plan a sleepcation at home over, say, a beach resort is because we know we get the best sleep on our Avocado mattresses at home.

  • 2

    Find Optimal Lighting

    BIOS Lighting Skyview Wellness Table Lamp, goop, $999

    The amount of light—natural or artificial—inside our bedrooms affects our sleep-wake cycle. The goal is to limit exposure to light while you’re sleeping, of course. Silk sleep masks are the simplest way to keep the light out at night without making it difficult to let sunlight in when you’re ready to fully wake. If you want to get high-tech, try the Skyview: It’s a table lamp that mimics the natural rhythms of the sun. In the evening, it transitions into sunset and nighttime modes to promote healthy sleep patterns.

  • 3

    Clean Our Bedroom Air

    Molekule Air Pro with PECO-HEPA Tri Power Filter, goop, $1,014.99

    Filtering out pesty airborne pollutants—dust, viruses, bacteria—improves air quality. And that, in turn, can potentially help us sleep better. The air filter from Molekule has a HEPA filter and 99 percent particle-capture filtration, along with a quiet mode that’s ideal for sleep.

  • 4

    Set Up Calming Aromatherapy

    vitruvi Sleep Essential Oil Blend, goop, $32.99

    Diffuse soothing aromas, like lavender and frankincense, as a cue for relaxation before sleep. Our favorite oils are from vitruvi—its Sleep Essential Oil Blend is designed for a night of sweet dreams.

  • 5

    Limit Noise

    Loftie Alarm Clock, goop, $149

    Keeping a relatively quiet space is important for a restful night of sleep, which means, of course: no pings, dings, or rings throughout the night (put your phone in sleep or do-not-disturb mode or leave it in another room entirely). White or brown noise (or other colors of noise) while you sleep can help drown out potential noise disruptions that are out of your control. We love the Loftie, a smart alarm clock that emits limited light; has a library of sounds, including white noise, soundbaths, and meditations; and wakes you up gently with soothing escalating tones. During your sleepcation, try forgoing the alarm and waking up naturally.