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Lack of Sleep, How It Affects Your Health, and How to Get More of It

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“I’m so tired.” How many times each day do you catch yourself mumbling those words? If you’re like 48% of American adults, your tiredness is caused by a seemingly simple problem – not getting enough sleep at night.

But it’s “just” a little lack of sleep! No big deal, right? Actually, missing those ZZZs may be having more of an effect on you than you think. It’s obvious that sleepiness disturbs your cognition, reaction times, and judgment, causing you to be less sharp in work and conversation, making you forgetful, and putting you at risk for minor and major accidents.

But did you realize that missing the mark on sleep accumulation is affecting your health? Those who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Sleeping fewer than six hours per night is associated with depression and can also cause the skin to age more readily. Due to the way missing sleep can affect your body’s hormone profiles, decreased sex drives and increases in weight gain are side effects as well.

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How much sleep do we actually need, then? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. I know, I know, that seems impossible. But here are a few tips  for making sleep possible and a priority.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and nicotine before bedtime
  • Dim or turn off all screens (phones, TVs, tablets, etc.) at least one hour before bedtime
  • If you have children, assign them a bedtime earlier than yours so there is less to distract you from getting to bed on time
  • Sleep in a temperature and on a surface that is comfortable for your body
  • Get a better pillow
  • Buy earplugs if your spouse snores
  • Limit your daytime naps
  • Manage your stress throughout the day so your mind isn’t racing at bedtime

If you’ve been used to sleeping 6 hours or fewer per night “forever” but you know it’s time for a change, try to slowly add extra sleep back into your life. Start by adding a half or a full hour each week to your nightly sleep time so your body can acclimate. Over time, you may be able to sleep the recommended amount normally and mumble less throughout the day about how tired you are.

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