go. to. sleep.

“I only need 4-5 hours of sleep per night.” False. One startling revelation was that most participants who slept four hours or less performed as if they were almost nine years older.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” True, and due to lack of sleep, that will arrive sooner, rather than later. The lowest mortality was experienced by women and men who reported sleeping 7 hours.

We all know that person. Actually, most of us are or have been that person. Acknowledge it or not, sleep deprivation is negatively affecting every facet of our lives. Seriously.

*A quick note – some recent studies have found that too much sleep for ADULTS can also have negative impacts on overall health. While this is not the issue facing most people, you can read more here.*

As more and more people get fewer and fewer hours of sleep, scientists have started to take notice. Study after study has found that missing even a few hours of sleep one night has the same effects on our body as having a blood alcohol content of nearly .08%. And most of us miss sleep multiple nights in a row. Basically, we are choosing to fight a losing battle.

And, like it or not, CHOOSING is the right word here. Our society has embraced a culture of being “so tired” or “so busy.” Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we are more valuable to the world in a tired, irritable, sleep-deprived state, at all hours of the day, than we are in a well-rested, alert state for more structured hours. We aren’t. And the science is proving it. Study after study has arrived at the same conclusion. And while the amounts of sleep necessary change as you age, the effects are similar across the board.

But weight (pun intended), there’s more! In addition to impaired mental function and increased mortality, sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of: depression, diabetes, stroke and heart disease, and (referring back to the aforementioned pun) weight gain and obesity. There are plenty of others too, including general physical appearance poor social interactions.

So where does that leave us? How do we fix this growing epidemic? Here are some simple steps to help you get the sleep your brain and body deserve:
1) Be consistent. It seems silly, but we schedule everything else in our lives – our jobs, our appointments, our meals, and our workouts. Simply schedule your bedtime, and wake up time, as well, and STICK TO IT. And keep it the same on the weekends!
2) Unplug. Turn off your cell phone, computer, tablet, and television at least an hour before your SCHEDULED bedtime. Many studies have found that the blue light drastically affects your natural circadian rhythms and interrupts sleep. Along with that, leave the cell phone out of the bedroom. People that sleep with their phones in the same room are less likely to sleep enough, as we are more tempted to turn to them late at night or if we wake up in the middle of the night.
3) Limit alcohol and caffeine before sleep. Studies have found that alcohol can, in small amounts, be good for the heart and have other positive health benefits. However, it is also shown to interrupt natural sleep patterns and prevent the brain from entering the REM phase of sleep. Caffeine consumption is similar. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine within three hours of your bedtime.
4) Avoid eating right before bed. Eating food awakens the bodies digestive systems. Sleeping shuts it down. By eating right before bed, the body tries to start the digestive system, which delays sleep, and once asleep, the food sits in the stomach and can interrupt sleep.
5) Avoid sleep aids unless you have at least 8 hours to sleep. This is a conversation that you need to have with your doctor, but sleep aids are designed to work over 8 or 9 hours. Waking up before that can have negative affects on your mood and productivity. Studies have also shown that prolonged use of sleep aids actually damages your natural ability to sleep.
6) Most importantly, don’t stress. Many people get upset when they feel they are losing sleep, having trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night. It is perfectly okay to lay in bed for 20 or 30 minutes without sleeping. This break from outside stimulants is still good for your brain and body. The important part is, don’t turn to your phone (you didn’t bring it in the bedroom anyhow, right? – #2), drink a glass of water (and only water – #3), don’t get up and get a snack (but you already knew that – #4), and don’t pop a sleep aid (no, seriously – #5).

If you are serious about your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, then appropriate amounts of sleep are essential. There really is just no way around it, our society is headed down a dark path. But there is hope, and it is not hard. With some proper planning and slight behavior changes, you can absolutely sleep your way to a healthier, more productive life.

Here is one final quote that helps sum everything up:
The overall implications of the results of this study are clear. They show that the effects on performance of moderate periods of being awake cannot be discounted. Sleep is needed after the end of a day if adverse effects on performance are to be avoided.