When I was in college we had a saying “sleep deprivation makes you tired”. Well, duh. But the sad part is that it was so often said because we were sleep deprived zombies trying to get through classes and put on theatrical productions, both for the university and for separate groups. This amounts to at least 3 full time jobs all going on at once. 

A great night's sleep: why you need more sleep and how to get it

Anyone who’s every toughed it out through a demanding educational program or internship knows that one of the first things to go is sleep. But when we were are in these situations there was usually an end in sight. We’re able to catch up and rest at the end of term or over the summer as we brace ourselves for another year. 

But then we get jobs that don’t really give us breaks any more. Sure we might get a couple of weeks paid vacation, but many of us never take those vacation days, and if we do, we try to cram so much “fun” in that time that we end up needing a vacation from our vacation.

We start to grow accustomed to those times when we can only get 6 or less hours – and figure this is simply the new normal. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” or “sleep is for the weak!” have become our battle cries. We wear our sleep deprivation as a badge of honor and swear we feel GREAT on only 4 hours. 

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The trouble is that sleep deprivation doesn’t just make us tired. There’s a terrifying laundry list of issues that begin to arise at consistent sub 5 hour nights:

  • Weight Gain
    • Sleep deprivation causes increased ghrelin production. Ghrelin is what makes you hungry. You begin to crave comfort foods, particularly sugar. This is one of the factors that causes chronically sleep deprived people to be overweight.
  • Increased stress
    • Being tired increases your stress response which in turn causes 
      • memory loss
      • reduced immunity 
      • increased glucose swimming around in your body which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
      • increased blood pressure that can lead to cardiovascular disease (read heart attack)
  • Increased impulsiveness and poor judgement
    • The Chernobyl Disaster and the Challenger explosion were both linked to members of the teams being chronically tired and overworked.
    • 100,000 car accidents in the US alone are linked sleep deprivation and it’s side effects
  • Poor mental wellbeing
    • Depression, anxiety, irritability, and anger all increase when we are tired.
    • Many mental illnesses come with a side of, and are preceded by, disrupted sleep. Improving the sleep of patients helps reduce the symptoms of their disorder.
  • Increased risk of stroke
    • at a regular less than 6.5 hours of sleep, individuals increase their risk of stroke by 4.5 times.

I don’t know about you but this list is enough to scare me into turning off Netflix and crawling into bed a bit earlier tonight.

If you live to be 90 years old you will have spent about 32 years of your life asleep.

But the struggle is real, on this point. If you live to be 90 years old you will have spent approximately 32 years of your life asleep. When I learned this, it was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Think of all the things I could do if I could just shave a bit of time off from sleeping.

Based on the list above, though, you might not make it to 90 if you continue to shave time off your slumber. And if you consider this is what your body is expecting to happen (sleeping 1/3 of your days), it must be getting some serious benefits from this time.

Recent research is showing that during sleep our brains are clearing out all the junk they make during the day. It’s basically cleaning house. And the effects of not getting a chance to do this at best are brain fog and crankiness, and worst are degenerative diseases like dementia. 

This house cleaning virtually only happens while we’re asleep.

The results of our brains getting a chance to clear out all the mess that they’ve created during our waking hours, makes those waking hours so much more productive. 

For example, learning and creativity are increased nearly 3 times due to a good nights sleep. Add to that your increased ability to focus, better decision making, and reduced impulsivity and that amounts to a much greater chance at having a productive day.

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The technical term here is sleep hygiene. This is a term that your frequently only become familiar with when you have a baby that won’t sleep. 

If you bring to your doctor or trusted mama friend how your baby won’t sleep they will start quizzing you in the baby’s routine and sleep conditions. And this is exactly where you should start looking into your own sleep.

1. Room conditions

    • Your bedroom should be as dark as possible (turn off or cover all light sources and get room darkening curtains or shades).
    • Your bedroom should also be a consistent temperature and on the cool side.

2. Keep regular hours

    • Get to bed and get up at the same time every day, regardless of the day of the week. Pick a schedule that works for you. Your body doesn’t know (or care) if it’s Saturday night or Wednesday night – it needs regular sleep regardless. If you do happen to need to recover, add an extra hour, not four. Oversleeping can throw off the schedule and wreak havoc for days.

3. Quit caffeine by the afternoon (preferably by lunch time)

    • Afternoon Starbucks runs might feel like a necessity to get through the day, but they might be what’s keeping you up at night. Find another restorative practice like a 10-30 minute power nap, exercise, deep breathing, or meditation to help through the afternoon slump and preserve your night time sleep. If you start sleeping better at night, you might find the afternoon slump isn’t so derailing anymore.

4. Exercise (but only until early evening)

    • Daily exercise is linked to better sleep. But don’t engage in rigorous exercise too close to bedtime. It tends to ramp up metabolism and energy levels for 2-3 hours afterwards. If you need to move closer to bedtime, try some restorative practices like yoga or tai chi.

5. Reserve your bedroom for rest

    • Your bedroom is not your office, tv room, or computer lab. Try to hold this space for sleep and other pleasurable (ahem) behaviors only. Location can trigger habits and if you spend a lot of time worrying while you’re in that room, it may trigger you to worry when you’re trying to sleep. 

6. Find a routine

    • Your mama friend will tell you one of the most important things to getting your kids to sleep at night is a bedtime routine. It triggers the mind that it’s time to get ready to sleep. While your routine might not consist of bath time, books, bottle, and snuggles – you do need to find something consistent that works for you. Reading, a warm drink like herbal tea or milk, a bath or shower, meditation, stretching are all good bed time activities. Notice that alcohol is not on this list. If used rarely and sparingly a drink before bed can help, but too much can interfere with nighttime processes and result in less restorative sleep.

If one of the reasons that you are skimping on sleep is because you’re overwhelmed and juggling too many things, please contact me. Coaching can help you get a better handle on how to manage life and be more productive. 

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