"I'll sleep when I'm dead."
It's a common mantra among midnight oil-burners. But for those night owls who underestimate the importance of sleep, a more correct phrase would be, "I'll be dead if I don't sleep."
Chronic sleep deprivation leads to a cascade of physical illnesses as common as a cold and as severe as diabetes, heart failure and, yes, early death.
Research shows time and again that sleep protects us from physical and mental harm, while sleep-deprivation puts us in harm's way.
Studies have found that the hormones secreted during sleep can help stave off food cravings and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Other studies have found that getting too little sleep for a single night results in elevated blood pressure for people who have existing hypertension.
The ideal average for sleep is seven to nine hours. For adults older than 65, the average is seven to eight hours. Three large cross-sectional epidemiological studies suggest that sleeping less than six hours per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15%.
With so much evidence of sleep's importance, it's a wonder we treat sleep as a luxury — or in the case of the "I'll sleep when I'm dead" crowd — a burden.
Some of us pay thousands of dollars for juice cleanses and vitamin B12 shots, but one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies literally costs nothing and doesn't hurt a bit. It does, however, require that we prioritize it.
Sleep is as necessary for life as food and water. When we lose sight of that, we de-legitimize the importance of sleep and set ourselves up for chronic illnesses, accidents and a pretty miserable existence.
Just think of the type of day you typically have following a lousy night's sleep. That foggy feeling you walk around with all day leads to reduced efficiency and productivity at work, errors and accidents.
One of the issues surrounding sleep is that most of us don't think much about it. While millions of Americans suffer from sleep disorders, most people don't mention sleeping problems to their doctors and most doctors don't ask about them.
If you find it difficult to get good night's sleep, consult your doctor. He or she will likely recommend a few tips to ease you back into Queen Mab's arms, including: Getting up at the same time each day, including weekends; maintaining a healthy diet; exercising on a regular basis during the day, not at night time; avoiding naps; avoiding alcohol and heavy or spicy food for two to three hours before bedtime; using blackout blinds to make your bedroom darker or an eye mask; keeping the bedroom uncluttered and reserved just for sleep; avoiding technology in the bedroom, as light from TVs and computer screens suppress melatonin and affect the quality of your sleep; and maintaining a cool room temperature, which helps induce sleep.
For those people whose sleep disorders require more-expert care, consult a sleep specialist. At the Hoag Sleep Health Program, for instance, we use cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and relaxation techniques to "re-train" people to sleep more soundly.
You can eat right and exercise all you want but without proper sleep, you won't feel any better. If you find yourself chasing after the latest fad workout routine, fasting "diet" or cleanse, give it a rest — and then get some rest yourself.
Once you wake up to the importance of sleep, you'll be amazed at how much healthier you will be.