Sleep experts recently concluded that adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks of chronic inadequate sleep, yet sleep is often considered a luxury that can take a back seat to other circumstances, situations and obligations in our lives.

This is a dangerous mindset. Not sleeping enough may literally be killing us.

At risk

Poor sleep increases the risk of physical and mental health problems, mortality, accidents, injuries and disability. It encourages our most insidious chronic diseases and leads to rampant bad moods and unproductiveness.

"Consider sleep as important to your overall health as diet and exercise and reap the rewards of a healthier and happier life."

Heart disease and diabetes? These are just two of the serious diseases that can be correlated with sleep deprivation. Drowsy driving accidents, which account for up to 21 percent of fatal crashes, are another dangerous consequence of inadequate sleep.

Benefits of rest

We know that achieving healthy sleep can be life-changing, helping you be healthier, happier, and optimally productive. The benefits of healthy sleep require adequate sleep duration, but also appropriate timing, daily regularity, good sleep quality and the absence of sleep diseases such as sleep apnea, insomnia or restless leg syndrome.

Millions of people have an untreated sleep illness that prevents them from achieving healthy sleep and optimal health. Effective treatment of a sleep illness improves quality of life by restoring healthy sleep, improving daytime alertness, increasing physical energy and reducing feelings of depression. Treatment may even reverse consequences of the illness, dramatically improving your health.

Those without sleep illnesses need good sleep hygiene to increase the high-quality sleep they get each night. Try this tonight and every other night moving forward: turn the screens off, do something that relaxes you, keep all distractions out of your bedroom, keep the room dark and cool, and go to bed at a regular bed time, allowing yourself enough time to have seven or more restful hours. The improvements in alertness and mood you feel will brighten your day.

It cannot be said any other way: sleep is critical. There is no substitute for sleep. Prioritizing sleep is a gift you give yourself. Consider sleep as important to your overall health as diet and exercise and reap the rewards of a healthier and happier life. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or wake up feeling exhausted, speak with your doctor.