It’s no secret that most people go through their days feeling tired. Modern life consists of jam-packed schedules, leaving little time to check off our to-do lists and enjoy time with loved ones, let alone getting enough sleep.

woman tired from lack of sleep
Image by Abbie Bernet

As tempting as it may be to stay up late and fit in all our daily commitments, getting sleep is important enough to our health and wellbeing that it should be at the top of our priority lists. 

Sleep scientist Matthew Walker recently told NPR that way too many people are going through life with far too little sleep, and that he’s calling for change.

“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain”

Walker, author of the book Why We Sleep, told NPR. “Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it.”

NPR reports that the National Sleep Foundation suggests that people should sleep for an average of eight hours each night. Walker explained that getting six hours or less of sleep is defined as a “lack of sleep.” While many people brush off exhaustion as no big deal or just a side effect of “dedication” to their jobs or other obligations, it’s far more significant than many of us realize.

How lack of sleep can affect your health

Lack of sleep can lead to issues with your immune system, your concentration, and your memory. It may also lead to other serious health issues. “Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” Walker told NPR. “So that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead, it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.” Turns out that lack of sleep just might shorten your life.

Going through each day exhausted can significantly diminish your ability to enjoy the sweet moments in your life and to be present. As shown in some studies, going about your day while tired can make you feel foggy and lead you to make poor decisions. In fact, one study showed how an unrested brain performs similarly to the brain of someone who is drunk. 

When it comes to emotional health, lack of sleep can be related to increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues. Of course, mental health issues can also cause your lack of sleep and make it tough for you to unwind at night. If you’re struggling with this, be kind to yourself. Feeling anxiety over your lack of sleep just makes you less likely to fall asleep. 

How to prevent lack of sleep

If you regularly lay awake in bed, Walker suggests getting up and moving to another room in the house, because otherwise, our brains may begin to associate our beds with being awake. Head into a room with dim lighting to read a book, and don’t return to your bed until you’re feeling more tired. The important thing here is to avoid screens. If you’d rather stay in your bedroom when you can’t sleep, try meditating to help you doze off.

Walker also suggests avoiding coffee and alcohol before bedtime. Even if you have no trouble drifting off to bed after a late-night coffee, it still prohibits you from getting a truly good night’s sleep. You’re also more likely to wake up feeling unrested in the morning, which will tempt you to repeat the cycle again by immediately reaching for more coffee. Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it doesn’t provide quality sleep. Alcohol sedates you as opposed to helping you fall asleep naturally, and it also can cause you to sleep in fits and starts without getting a real night’s rest.

Highly busy CEO’s recommend taking an hour before bed just to unwind. Many recommend taking a hot bath with the lights off and a few scented candles. Adding a few drops of essential oils in the water can also provide relief to an anxious mind. They also recommend writing down any thoughts that aren’t letting you relax. Tell yourself there’s nothing you can do about it now, and whatever it is will just have to wait until the morning.