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Paybacks for Lost Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have sleep debt? Lack of sleep, or "sleep debt," can leave you feeling tired, listless and sleepy on a daily basis.

Until your body starts getting the sleep it needs every night -- most people need around eight hours, say the experts -- it won't function as efficiently, your health will be at risk and even your job may be in jeopardy.

We've been searching for what Shakespeare called "sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care" for centuries. As time passes, though, we get less and less. In addition, the number of people in the U.S. who average six hours or less per night of sleep, has increased from 1985 to 2006. According to a recent CDC study, 10 percent of adults report that are not getting enough sleep every day on over a month's period of time. The CDC estimates that between 50 million and 60 million people have either chronic sleep loss or a sleep disorder.

What's wrong with that?

Everything. Sleep is not simply a passive activity. It's one of the most important elements in a healthy lifestyle, as important as good nutrition and exercise, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Researchers know that a lack of deep sleep -- as opposed to irregular or fragmented sleep -- undermines the body's ability to fight off disease. Sleepiness also reduces the quality and quantity of people's work according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

The study also found that the prevalence of insufficient sleep decreased with age. An estimated 13.3 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 reported insufficient rest or sleep everyday in the past month compared with only 7.3 percent of adults ages 55 and older.

Sleep debt

And where you find sleepiness, you find "sleep debt."

Researchers have found that people who are deprived of sleep have several issues. According to the NSF, short sleep duration is associated with:

  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents

  • Increased risk of obesity due to an increased appetite cause by sleep deprivation

  • Increased risk of both diabetes and heart problems

  • Increased risk of depression or substance abuse

  • Decreased ability to pay close attention, react quickly, or remember new information

A prescription for better sleep

  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night.

  • Get regular daily exercise.

  • Don't eat within four hours of going to bed.

  • Establish a pre-bedtime routine -- brushing your teeth or reading -- that lets your body know it's time for sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol and tobacco two hours before bedtime.

  • Get up at the same time every day, no matter when you went to sleep.

  • Unwind from daily activities early so your mind is clear at bedtime.

  • Sleep in a dark, cool, quiet room on a comfortable mattress.