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How Long Does It Take to Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

The more sleep deprivation you have, the longer it will take to recover. Use the RISE app to find out how sleep deprived you are and how you can bounce back.
Updated
2023-07-12
23 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Sleep Deprivation? What You Need to Know 

  • There’s no set amount of time it takes to recover from sleep deprivation. 
  • The more sleep deprived you are, the longer it will take. 
  • The RISE app can tell you how sleep deprived you are, how long it will take to catch up on sleep, and how exactly you can do that.

In a perfect world, we’d all get enough sleep each night. But it’s all too common to miss out on sleep and become sleep deprived. 

Fortunately, there’s scientific evidence showing you can catch up on this missed sleep. It may just take longer than you think. 

Below, we’ll cover how long it takes to recover from sleep deprivation and how you can use the RISE app to find out how sleep deprived you are and how to recover.

What Does a Sleep Doctor Think?

We asked our Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, who’s double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“We don’t know for sure how long it takes to recover from sleep deprivation. But we do know the more sleep deprived you are, the longer it can take. Don’t let that put you off though. There will be some immediate improvements to how you feel and function as soon as you start catching up on sleep.”

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

How long it takes to recover from sleep deprivation will all depend on how sleep deprived you are and how much extra sleep you can get. One study found one hour of sleep loss takes four days to recover from.

But it’s not always as straightforward as that. We all react differently to sleep loss, and your energy levels may bounce back in one timeframe, but your mental performance, for example, may take longer. 

Here’s a look at what we know so far. 

First up, a key study on the topic had participants only get about five hours of sleep a night for seven nights. They then had two “recovery” nights of sleep. 

The study measured mood, sleepiness, and cognitive performance and found all three got worse when participants were only getting five hours of shut-eye. But all three measures bounced back after the two recovery nights. 

The takeaway: If you spend a week getting only five hours of sleep a night, your energy, mood, and cognitive performance may recover after two nights of recovery sleep. 

Dr. Jamie Zeitzer is the co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University, and he’s one of our sleep advisors. One of his studies found two consecutive nights of less than six hours of sleep can decrease your work performance for six days.

The takeaway: It may take six days for your work performance to recover after two nights of less than six hours of sleep. 

In another study, participants got six hours of sleep for six nights and then 10 hours of sleep for three nights. Their sleepiness and levels of IL-6 (an inflammatory compound) increased when they were only getting six hours of sleep, but returned to normal after the three nights of 10 hours of sleep. 

The caveat with this study is that participants’ cognitive performance didn’t bounce back. This could be because they didn’t get enough sleep to recover, however. More nights of recovery sleep may have helped. 

The takeaway: After six nights of six hours of sleep, your energy levels and certain health metrics may recover from sleep deprivation with three nights of 10 hours of sleep, but your mental performance may take longer. 

Some things may bounce back fast. One study found a two-hour nap after an all-nighter increased participants’ alertness and performance and reversed increased cortisol (your stress hormone), which the night of no sleep caused. 

The takeaway: High cortisol levels may return to normal if you take a two-hour nap after an all-nighter. 

But some sleep restriction studies paint a less certain picture. In a widely circulated 2021 study, participants got 30% less sleep than they needed, getting about five hours 18 minutes for 10 nights. This was followed by seven nights of recovery sleep. At the end of the experiment, reaction times bounced back to normal, but other factors (like accuracy) were still lower than usual, even after a whole week of recovery. 

However, don’t let that fool you into thinking catching up on sleep is a myth. This study suggests you may not be able to fully recover from sleep deprivation in a week, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t if you had more than seven nights to catch up.

Another reason to be skeptical of the study’s claims regarding catch up sleep is that participants may not have been getting enough sleep during their recovery week to fully bounce back. The average sleep duration before the restriction period was about seven hours 37 minutes. And the average during the recovery period was about seven hours 36 minutes — not exactly what we’d call recovery. To catch up on sleep, you need to sleep for longer than you usually need. 

Participants also spent their nights sleeping at home. This means many disruptions — think kids, early morning alarms, or a lumpy mattress — could be contributing to them not getting enough sleep to fully recover. 

All this is to say that it’s hard to draw conclusions from studies like these. Without making sure participants get proper recovery sleep, we can’t know whether it’s impossible biologically to bounce back from sleep loss, or whether it’s just difficult to do in daily life.

The takeaway: Depending on how sleep deprived you are, one week may not be long enough to fully recover. But then again, it could be, if you got a lot of sleep during this recovery week. More research needs to be done to know if it’s impossible, or just difficult. 

The Final Verdict 

As you can see from the research, there's no set time for how long it takes to recover from sleep deprivation. Studies on the topic have different findings, and these findings come from varying amounts of sleep deprivation and lengths of recovery. This makes it hard — if not impossible — to say how long it takes to recover from sleep loss. 

What we do know, however, is that the more sleep deprived you are, the longer it will take to bounce back. 

If you’d like a number to work with, RISE can tell you how many night’s it’ll take you to pay back your sleep deprivation if you follow the app’s recommended sleep times. 

RISE works out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have. This is the amount of sleep you owe your body. 

RISE’s smart schedule feature takes into account your chosen wake-up time, how much sleep you need, and how much sleep debt you have. The app then gives you a goal bedtime and tells you how long it’ll take to pay back your sleep debt. 

RISE app screenshot showing your ideal bedtime
The RISE app can tell you how long it’ll take to pay back your sleep debt.

It may take a while to recover, but our users show you can start paying back sleep debt quickly. We found RISE users who pay back sleep debt manage to pay back more than four hours of sleep debt within the first two weeks of using the app. 

Heads-up: Experts agree sleep debt is one of the most important sleep scores out there. Time spent in REM sleep and deep sleep, or sleep quality scores you get from apps and wearables, may be interesting, but it’s sleep debt that has the biggest impact on how you’ll feel each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep debt here

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What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is when you don’t get enough sleep. This could come from staying up late scrolling on social media, being woken up in the middle of the night by a noisy neighbor, or months of struggling with insomnia. 

In short, you’ll become sleep deprived whenever you don’t meet your sleep need, which is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need. 

How much sleep do you need exactly? There’s no one answer to that. We all have different sleep needs and they can vary a lot. 

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older, we found they ranged from a relatively small five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours. 

Rise Science looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and older and found they ranged from a relatively small five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. The median sleep need was eight hours. 
The RISE app can work out how much sleep you need.

 

Sleep deprivation is also known as sleep debt, which is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. And there are two types of sleep debt to be aware of: 

  • Acute sleep debt: The kind you build up over the last two weeks or so. 
  • Chronic sleep debt: The kind you build up over months or years.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here

How Do You Know if You’re Sleep Deprived?

If you feel tired during the day (outside of your natural afternoon slump), feel irritable, or have trouble staying productive, you may be sleep deprived. But it can be hard to tell as we get used to the feeling of sleep loss. The RISE app acts as a sleep deprivation calculator and can tell you for sure. 

The app uses a year’s worth of your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your sleep need. It then tracks your sleep times and calculates how much sleep debt you have each day.  

We measure sleep debt over 14 nights, but every night isn’t equal. We put more weight — 15% to be exact — on last night’s sleep as this is the night that has the biggest impact on how you’ll feel and function today. The remaining 85% comes from the previous 13 nights of sleep, with more recent nights having more weighting. 

That means if you can’t recover from sleep deprivation in one go, any extra sleep you get tonight can help you feel better tomorrow, even if you’ve still got sleep debt to chip away at.

But don’t worry about a small amount of sleep debt. We recommend you keep your sleep debt below five hours. Research suggests your mental performance with five hours of sleep debt will be close to what it would be with no sleep debt at all.

And with a goal of five hours, you don’t have to put so much pressure on every night of sleep being perfect — which, ironically, can cause more sleep loss.

We’ve covered more on how much sleep debt you have here. 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

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What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?

The symptoms of sleep deprivation range from low energy, irritability, and trouble concentrating in the short term to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the long term.

Short-term sleep deprivation can lead to: 

Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to: 

  • Diabetes 
  • Weight gain and obesity 
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Having multiple serious health problems (a 2022 study found sleeping for five hours or less a night at ages 50, 60, and 70 was associated with a high risk of having two or more chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease)
  • Early death  

While these are the common effects of sleep deprivation, we all respond differently to getting a lack of sleep. Physiologically, short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can affect our bodies in different ways, and more research is needed for us to fully understand the impacts of both.   

What Are the Stages of Sleep Deprivation?

There are five stages of sleep deprivation, which are broken up into the number of hours you go without sleep. They include 24, 36, 48, 72, and 96 hours of sleep deprivation. 

Here’s what happens when you hit each one. 

  • Stage 1 — 24 hours with no sleep: After pulling an all-nighter, you’ll probably feel drowsy, irritable, and struggle to concentrate. And the effects can hit you before you’ve even hit the 24-hour mark. One study found that after being awake for 18 to 20 hours, you’ll have the same cognitive impairments as if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.1% — over the legal limit for driving in every state.
  • Stage 2 — 36 hours with no sleep: One study found after 36 hours of no sleep you’ll have a reduced attention span, slower reaction times, and experience microsleeps, where you involuntarily fall asleep for a few seconds, sometimes without even knowing it. 
  • Stage 3 — 48 hours with no sleep: After being awake for two days straight, your decision-making skills, judgment, and immune system will all take a big hit. 
  • Stage 4 — 72 hours with no sleep: You’ll not only be extremely sleepy after three days with no sleep, but you may also experience anxiety, delusions, and hallucinations
  • Stage 5 — 96 hours with no sleep: If you can hit four days without sleep, you’ll likely experience disordered thoughts, dissociation, and hallucinations. Your grip in reality won’t be very strong at all. 

But as studies on sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours are now considered unethical, we don’t truly know the effects of severe sleep deprivation. 

Outside of a lab, most of us — hopefully — won’t reach the later stages. But even a small amount of sleep deficit is enough for our energy levels, health, and focus to take a hit. 

We’ve covered more on sleep deprivation stages here.

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What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can be caused by many factors including long work hours, taking care of kids, medical conditions, and sleep disorders. 

Here’s a closer look at the many causes of sleep deprivation. 

  • Your personal life: Either by choice or not, you may be getting insufficient sleep due to work deadlines, kids waking up in the night, or late-night Netflix and socializing. 
  • Shift work: Working nights or rotating shifts can make it hard to get the sleep you need. 
  • Jet lag: Your body takes a while to adjust to a new time zone, so when jet lagged, you can become sleep deprived. 
  • Sleep disorders: Like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
  • Medical conditions and illnesses: From the common cold and COVID to chronic pain and depression. 
  • Poor sleep hygiene: This includes drinking coffee too late in the day and eating too close to bedtime
  • Stress and anxiety: RISE users say stress and anxiety are the biggest challenges stopping them from getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Medications: Like cold meds, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications.  
  • Disruptions in your bedroom: When your bedroom is too hot, too loud, or too bright your sleep can suffer. 
  • Hormones: You may become sleep deprived when you’re on your period, pregnant, or going through menopause

The list doesn’t end there. Anything that disrupts your sleep can cause sleep deprivation. If possible, try to pinpoint what’s causing your sleep deprivation to give you the best chance of overcoming it. 

Speak to your healthcare provider if you think a medical condition, mental health issue, or sleep disorder is causing sleep deprivation. They can recommend treatment options to help. 

What Happens When You Don’t Pay Back Sleep Debt?

When you don’t pay back sleep debt, your energy levels, mood, and cognitive performance can get progressively worse. If you go months and years building up sleep debt, you may suffer from health issues like weight gain, depression, and diabetes. 

Can You Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

Studies suggest you can recover from short-term sleep deprivation. Measures like sleepiness, mood, and certain mental performance and health factors have been shown to bounce back when you get more sleep. 

For example, a 2023 study found those who caught up on sleep at the weekend had a lower risk of high cholesterol compared to those who didn’t catch up on sleep. 

Another sleep study found sleep deprivation can increase your sensitivity to pain, but recovery sleep helps to restore it to baseline levels. 

And yet another study found the mortality rate of those who slept for five hours or less during the week, but got nine hours of sleep or more on the weekends, was the same as those who consistently got seven hours of sleep

And then there’s the study we shared earlier that shows even after an all-nighter, a two-hour nap can improve your energy, performance, and cortisol levels. 

But research suggests some things may not fully recover from sleep deprivation. One study found sleep deprivation caused a decrease in frontal lobe function, or lowered brain function. Recovery sleep helped, but it was only partially restorative. Participants only had one night of recovery sleep, however, so more sleep may have helped improve their brain activity. 

Other research from 2019 found sleeping for longer at the weekend didn’t prevent the insulin sensitivity and weight gain that comes from sleep deprivation. But again, more recovery sleep could have helped. Participants in this study only got an hour or so of extra sleep over the weekend. 

The final verdict: Research suggests it is possible to recover from sleep deprivation, at least for some aspects of your mental performance, physical health, and energy levels. But more research is needed to fully answer this question. 

While some measures may not recover, others can. So it’s always worth getting extra sleep, if possible, to improve how you feel and function day to day. 

Weekend lay-ins or afternoon power naps can be deceiving, though. They can boost your energy levels, so you feel better in the short run, but you may still have sleep debt to pay back, which can impact your long-term health if you don’t. 

And while science currently suggests you can catch up on short-term sleep deprivation, that’s not permission to stay up all night. It’s not clear yet what the effects are of continually building up sleep debt and paying it back. 

The best course of action is to never become sleep deprived in the first place, but we know that’s not realistic. Our advice is to do your best to get enough sleep each night. But if you do miss out on sleep, try to catch up, as there is research out there suggesting your energy levels, health, and mental performance will thank you for the extra sleep.  

We’ve covered more on whether you can catch up on sleep here, including why there’s a widespread myth that you can’t. 

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Can You Recover From Long-Term Sleep Deprivation?

It’s not clear whether you can recover from long-term sleep deprivation. While studies suggest it is possible to recover from the short-term effects of sleep debt, it’s not as clear-cut when it comes to chronic sleep debt. Research into this would have to span decades, and there’s no conclusive answer yet. 

The good news is if you have long-term sleep deprivation, you probably also have short-term sleep deprivation. And as studies suggest you can catch up on short-term sleep deprivation, any extra sleep you can get will help you feel and function better. 

How to Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

You can recover from sleep deprivation by sleeping more than you usually need. Do this by taking naps or sleeping for longer than usual at night. If your body needs eight hours of sleep, for example, getting nine hours of sleep for a few nights could help you recover from sleep deprivation. 

Here’s how to fix sleep deprivation by paying down your sleep debt. 

Take Naps

Daytime naps can help make up for lost sleep at night. Just be sure to keep your naps short and early enough in the day that you’ll be able to fall asleep at bedtime. 

We recommend keeping naps to about 90 minutes or less (apart from extreme circumstances like when you’ve pulled an all-nighter), and napping during your afternoon dip in energy. RISE can tell you when this is each day.  

Go to Bed a Little Earlier

Go to sleep earlier than usual to get some extra shut-eye. 

Check RISE for when your natural evening peak in energy will be, as you’ll find it almost impossible to fall asleep during this time. Head to bed when your body’s more primed for sleep when your energy levels are dipping in the late evening. 

For science-backed guidance on earlier bedtimes, use RISE’s smart schedule feature. It takes into account the time you need to wake up, your sleep need, and your sleep debt, and then gives you a bedtime that slowly shifts earlier to help you catch up on sleep.  

Sleep in an Hour or So Later

Keep your lay-ins to an hour or so, or two hours if you really need it. Short lay-ins allow you to pay back some sleep debt without disrupting your circadian rhythm (your body clock), which can make it hard to fall asleep the next night. We cover more on the pros and cons of weekend lie-ins here.

RISE can nudge you into a later wake-up time when you need it. When you use the RISE alarm, it will tell you — as you’re setting it — whether your alarm time will add to your sleep deprivation or not. If it does, try setting a later alarm to get more sleep. 

RISE app screenshot showing smart alarm
The RISE app can tell you if your wake-up time will add to your sleep debt.

How to Avoid Sleep Deprivation?

The best way to avoid sleep deprivation is to get enough sleep for you each night. And the best way to do this is by maintaining good sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene is the set of daily habits that help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and get better sleep each night.

Here’s what to keep in mind.

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: RISE users with consistent sleep-wake times have less sleep debt than those with inconsistent sleep-wake times. Aim to have a regular sleep pattern throughout the week, even on your days off.
  • Get bright light first thing: Light is a powerful signal to your circadian rhythm, telling it that it’s daytime. Aim for at least 10 minutes of natural light exposure as soon as possible after waking up to boost your alertness levels and help you fall asleep later that night. If it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window, get 15 to 20 minutes of light. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and it can keep you up past bedtime, causing sleep deprivation. Put on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bed (we recommend these) to reduce the chances of that happening. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: These common sleep disruptors can get in the way of quality sleep as they can keep you up or wake you up in the night. RISE can tell you when it’s best to avoid each one.
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: Stress is a common cause of sleeplessness. Keep it in check by winding down before bed with a relaxing bedtime routine. Try reading, listening to soft music, taking a warm shower or bath, or journaling.   
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains and an eye mask, and wear earplugs or listen to white noise to stop anything in your sleep environment from causing sleep deprivation. RISE has in-app white noise and other sleep sound recordings to help you drift off.

To make it easy to maintain good sleep hygiene, RISE can remind you when to do 20+ healthy sleep habits each day at the time that makes them the most effective. 

RISE app screenshot reminding you of your sleep hygiene habits
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Start Recovering From Sleep Deprivation Now  

It’s not clear how long it takes exactly to recover from sleep deprivation. But studies show it is possible to recover from short-term sleep loss. 

To help you do this, the RISE app can work out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have. RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, so you can get more sleep and start chipping away at your debt. 

About 80% of RISE users start to feel the benefits of making up for lost sleep within five days. 

Summary FAQs

How long does it take to recover from sleep deprivation?

It’s not clear how long it takes to recover from sleep deprivation. One study found one hour of sleep loss takes four days to recover from. The more sleep deprived you are, the longer it’ll take to recover.

How long does it take to recover from an all-nighter?

It’s not clear how long it takes to recover from an all-nighter. One study found one hour of sleep loss takes four days to recover from. Another study found a two-hour nap after an all-nighter can reverse increased cortisol levels caused by the night of sleep deprivation. But we all react differently to sleep loss, and your energy levels may bounce back in one timeframe, but your mental performance, for example, may take longer.

How long does it take to recover from months of sleep deprivation?

It’s not clear if you can recover from months of sleep deprivation. You may be able to recover from short-term sleep deprivation, however, which you build up over about two weeks. It can take four days to recover from one hour of sleep loss, so the more sleep deprived you are, the longer it’ll take to bounce back.

How long does it take to recover from years of sleep deprivation?

It’s not clear if you can recover from years of sleep deprivation. You may be able to recover from short-term sleep deprivation, however, which you build up over about two weeks. It can take four days to recover from one hour of sleep loss, so the more sleep deprived you are, the longer it’ll take to bounce back.

How long does it take to recover from chronic sleep deprivation?

It’s not clear if you can recover from chronic sleep deprivation. You may be able to recover from short-term sleep deprivation, however, which you build up over about two weeks. It can take four days to recover from one hour of sleep loss, so the more sleep deprived you are, the longer it’ll take to bounce back.

Can you recover from sleep deprivation?

Yes, studies suggest you can recover from sleep deprivation. You can do this by getting more sleep than you usually need. Do this by taking naps or sleeping for a little longer at night. If you have chronic sleep deprivation, from months or years of not getting enough sleep, you may not be able to recover. More research needs to be done to know for sure.

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