If you are like most of us who are routinely getting poor quality and a poor duration of sleep then this article is for you.

In today’s society, the value of a proper night’s sleep is being overlooked. Day to day stress is at a high point. The emphasis on job performance and success in life is weighing heavily on people everywhere. Insomnia and other sleep disorders have become an increasing problem for many people.

Regardless the cause, sleep has taken a backseat in today’s “rush, rush, go” society. We just can’t seem to fit enough into our days.

It is easy to start shedding a few hours of sleep here and there to get a head-start on tomorrow’s tasks. You may think to yourself that 6 hours of sleep per night is plenty. You may be relying on your daily dose of coffee to get you to plow through your days and nights at full speed and optimal efficiency…or so you think.

What is sleep and why is sleep so important?

Sleep is a period of recovery for your body. While you sleep at night, your brain is working on recovering from the day and preparing you to tackle tomorrow. Your brain works to form new pathways, helping you learn and retain any new information. Sleep is also when your organs begin their repair and recovery phase. While you sleep, your body is working hard on the repair of your blood vessels and even your heart itself is involved in repairs as you sleep.

Sleep also has an effect on your hormone balance. A good night’s sleep helps maintain a proper hormone balance which affects many functions of your body including your body’s response to insulin, your immune system’s response, your body’s overall growth, the repair of cells and muscle tissue, and even your thirst and hunger. A deficiency in sleep has been known to lead to poor diet, weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a large number of medical conditions including an increased risk of depression, increased risk of heart attack, an increase in susceptibility to pain , increased risk of obesity, risk of high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke and recurring headaches.

Sleep deprivation can also change the way your brain functions. People who are chronically sleep deficient can have a delayed reaction time, difficulty with problem solving, troubles with memory and concentration and difficulty retaining new information. Sleep deficiency can also lead to emotional changes and the inability to control emotions. The risk of depression, development of risky behavior and even suicide are all increased for those who are chronically sleep deprived.

Even shaving just an hour or two from your sleep over a period of days can result in a decrease in daytime performance and can leave you feeling as though you have not slept at all for an entire day.

Sleep deficiency can lead to something called “microsleep”. Microsleep refers to those brief instances of unintentional day-time sleep. This can become a dangerous situation as we have seen when people fall asleep while driving or operating heavy machinery.

What is more worrisome is that the majority of those who suffer from sleep deficiency may not even realize it.  They appear to be able to function throughout the day on little, or poor quality sleep, unaware of the havoc that losing even just a few hours of sleep can cause.

So how much sleep is enough?

It is recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep at night to reap the full benefits of sleep. Teenagers and children require more sleep than adults do.

If you routinely lose sleep at night and are getting less than 7 hours of sleep you have a sleep deficiency. It  can become very difficult to ever catch up on lost sleep.

Sleep is actually very similar to debt. The more debt that is racked up, the harder it will become to pay off. Look at it this way: If you shave an hour off of your sleep every night from Monday night to Saturday night ,you will be in debt of 6 hours of lost sleep. In order to make up for it, on Sunday night you would have to sleep a total of 13 hours before waking up to start the week all over again!

Maybe you can take naps throughout the day? Sure you could. A nap is one way to give you a temporary boost though the day. But your body will not be able to heal and recover during a nap. You brain will not recover during a nap. You lose all heath benefits that good quality sleep has to offer when you are relying on naps to make up for lost sleep.

Good sleep hygiene is a great way to ensure that you are getting sufficient sleep. A night time routine that includes consistent times, a room clear of clutter, calming and relaxing thoughts as well as shutting off handheld devices all promote good quality sleep. Bright lights from any screen can lean to poor sleep and even insomnia. A good practice is to shut off all screens 60-30 minutes before bed. A dark room with no light or loud noises will also promote good quality sleep.

If you have difficulty falling asleep at night or you have become used to sleeping for less than 8-7 hours, it may take a few days to get your internal clock back on track. Try keeping the same bedtime and the same nighttime routine in order to retrain your body to fall asleep at the same time every night. Soothing white noise machines can also offer some help in lulling you to sleep at night.

Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods after 6pm. These can be detrimental to your sleep/wake cycle. Also very heavy meals at night can leave you lying awake in bed wondering if you will ever fall asleep.

Of course, life happens. We cannot guarantee that we will never lose sleep. Work, families, school and stress can all demand time from us that we inevitable will subtract from our sleep at night. The key is to not rack up so much sleep debt that we will never catch up. Routine, consistency, and the knowledge of what sleep does for us are your tools to achieving a good night’s sleep and avoiding the consequences of sleep deprivation.