Many people regard sleep as a luxury, a waste of time and even a weakness of character. How often have you heard someone say, “What do you mean you need eight hours of sleep? All I need is six.”

It’s time we put an end to these myths and misplaced values. We now know that quality sleep is an absolute necessity, and the sad and alarming truth is that the majority of us don’t get enough of it. Keep in mind that chronically sleepy people are the worst judges of their condition.

Poor sleep indicators

Some important questions to ask yourself are: do you fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed? Does a warm room, heavy meal, low dose of alcohol, boring meeting or lecture ever make you drowsy? Do you often sleep extra hours on the weekend? Do you often need an alarm clock to wake up at the appropriate time? Do you often feel tired and stressed out during the week? Do you often feel sleepy while relaxing after dinner?

“The quantity and quality of our sleep is the best predictor we have of longevity.”

If you answered “yes” to any two or more of these questions you are probably one of the 40 percent of Americans who aren’t getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. Americans now average 6.8 hours, down more than an hour from 1942. Sleep deprivation has serious deleterious physical, emotional and cognitive consequences. These include a higher risk of hypertension (heart attacks and strokes), type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, periodontal disease, skin problems, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, increased anxiety and depression, slower reaction time and increased accidents.

Sleep deprivation actually kills brain cells. Too little sleep decreases thinking, memory, creativity and performance in school, on the job and as an athlete. In fact, the quantity and quality of our sleep is the best predictor we have of longevity.

Waking the body

However, there’s many things you can do to make sure you have a better tomorrow. Meet your sleep requirement every night. Add one more hour than you are currently getting and you will be in a better mood, more efficient and effective. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day and night, including weekends.

Get plenty of exercise (but not too close to bedtime) and maintain a healthy diet. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. and don’t drink alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime. Avoid the use of electronics (e.g. TV, computers, iPads) within an hour of bedtime — all these devices output blue daylight spectrum lighting which delays sleep onset.

Lastly, light therapy devices are especially useful for teens who must get up early for school. Their delayed sleep phase syndrome makes it nearly impossible to go to sleep early enough to get the 9.25 hours of sleep needed to be fully alert all day long. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s fuel for the brain.