How many hours of sleep are you really getting most nights? If your answer is 5-6, or 7 if you are lucky, then you are like most Americans. That is, like most Americans, you are chronically sleep deficient. Most people require an average of 8 hours of sleep each night. That means actual sleep, not counting the time you lay in bed reading, watching TV, or simply waiting to fall asleep.
Why worry about sleep when the good Earth provides coffee, right? Well, maybe you should worry. After all, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of heart disease, cognitive impairment, memory lapses or loss, impaired immune function, increased risk of diabetes, increased pain, growth suppression, tremors, symptoms similar to ADHD, and even an increased risk of obesity (especially for teens). And of course, fatigue.
Many people suffer from medical problems that contribute to chronic sleep deprivation (for example, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, etc.). If you struggle from chronic insomnia or feel an underlying medical problem is interfering with your sleep, by all means discuss this with your doctor. However, the vast majority of people suffer from one common underlying problem: they simply do not allow themselves enough time to sleep.
Do this simple experiment: For 1 week, keep a sleep diary. Write down what time you actually go to bed, the approximate time you fell asleep, and what time you wake each day. Recording caffeine intake, last meal times, and pre-bed activity will help you discover possible triggers if you suffer from insomnia. Here is a sleep diary link (many more are online): http://www.helpguide.org/life/pdfs/sleep_diary.pdf.
Also record your mood and energy levels. Then, if you average 7 or less hours sleep each night, do your absolute best to achieve an average of 8 hours sleep each night for the entire next week. If this means missing your favorite TV show or putting down that fascinating novel, then so be it. Turn out the lights, go to bed earlier, and give yourself the gift of an extra hour or two each night. It’s just for a week. I promise it won’t kill you. At least allow yourself the physical possibility of achieving an optimal amount of sleep. At the end of the week, compare your mood and energy to the prior week. Chances are, you will have more energy, your mood will be brighter, and you will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish during the day. If you like how you feel, consider making time for optimal sleep for life. Think about it. Or at the very least, sleep on it.