To kick off National Sleep Awareness Month, we’re going to be tackling the important topic of sleep deprivation – what it is, what it does, and how to prevent it. The scary truth of the matter is that not getting enough sleep can have some serious side effects, and way too many of us are coping with the impact of both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night is frighteningly common amongst American adults, and it can occur from poor sleep hygiene, such as not having a set bedtime or drinking caffeine right before turning in for the night, or from underlying sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. No matter what the cause of your sleep deprivation might be, it can cause issues that are much more serious than you might think. The effects of temporarily not getting enough sleep include: • Impaired memory and cognitive processes • Decreased ability to focus • Reduced daytime alertness While these symptoms and how they affect your day-to-day life might seem a bit mundane, the consequences of sleep loss can turn out to be shockingly serious. Think about it – if you’re nodding off at work or zoning out during an important meeting, you’re putting your job (not to mention your livelihood) on the line. Yikes! And let’s not forget about the fact that the sleep deprived are more than twice as likely to have an accident in the workplace or on the road. Sleep deprivation is responsible for more than 100,000 car crashes each and every year, accounting for over 70,000 resulting injuries, and almost 2,000 crash-related fatalities. Not good! The long-term effects of being sleep deprived are also sobering when it comes to your health. All of the following health concerns have been linked to chronic sleep deprivation: • Increased stress levels • Elevated blood pressure • Heart attacks and strokes • Decreased immune response • Raised blood sugar and diabetes • Serious weight gain and obesity • Depression and other mood disorders • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) You’re probably thinking that losing out on a few hours of sleep each night doesn’t seem as if it could cause such scary results, but the inarguable truth is that not getting enough sleep is one of the worst things that you can do for your health, and the consequences are drastic and far-reaching. Sleep studies have shown that regularly getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night increases your death rate by 15%. Now that we’ve got your attention, it’s time to talk about how to prevent the scary side effects of sleep deprivation, even if you’ve had trouble getting to sleep in the past. You can do yourself a serious favor by investing in some extra rest by taking advantage of the powerful power nap. Conventional wisdom dictates that if you’ve lost a good night’s worth of sleep, you should make up for it with a nap the day afterward, and science backs this thought process up – big time! A recent study on the benefits of napping found that taking a 30-minute nap the day after getting only 2 hours of sleep brought participants back to normal in regards to their immune health and overall well-being. Sweet, right? But just remember that as much power as there can be found in a power nap, they are not a long-term solution to a chronic sleep deprivation issue, and they can’t address many of the approximately 90 serious sleep disorders that are out there. If you find yourself having trouble sleeping on a regular basis, you should check in with your doctor to make sure that you aren’t suffering from a sleep disorder, and if so, which one. Your health professional will be able to get you back on the right track to bedtime and help you to cash in on the many health benefits of a good night of sleep.