Please tell me I’m not the only one who was tired last week! The recent time change messed up my sleep schedule. Yours too? Ok, good. Now I don’t feel so bad. All week I was thinking… spring forward? How about backward! I always get excited in the Spring when I realize the time is about to change. The more hours of daylight in the evening, the better! But this time around was very different. This time I noticed how dark it was in the morning. It was extremely difficult to get out of bed! I also found myself going to bed later than usual. Maybe it was the shortened time between sunset and bedtime that threw me off. Either way, I was tired all week, and my productivity showed it.

Ok, I know I just used the word “bedtime”. Don’t laugh. I genuinely have one. During the week, I don’t have to be up as early as most of you for work, but I try to be in bed around 11pm and set my alarm for 7am. That’s 8 hours if I actually get myself in bed on time. It’s a rare occurrence, but I try. My logic is if I get there late, I still have a shot at 7 hours and that’s not too shabby!

How many hours of sleep do you average per night? No, really, think about that for a second. Do you have a number? I hope most of you answered between 7 and 9 hours. If you answered less, then you could be one of the 50 to 70 million Americans who experience chronic sleep loss. And unfortunately, catching up on the weekends isn’t going to cut it.

Sleep deprivation can have some serious side effects. It can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, and impaired immunity. Lack of sleep can make you more likely to get sick and even lengthen your recovery time. Sleep also affects hormone and blood sugar regulation, which in turn affects your appetite and weight.

On the other hand, getting plenty of rest each night has wonderful positives. Increased alertness, improved memory, reduced inflammation, lowered cortisol levels and lowered risk of depression are all on the list. For those of us who workout regularly, we need those hours of rest for muscle growth and repair. Without it we’re doing ourselves a disservice at the gym. If that doesn’t make you want to sleep a little longer tonight, then I don’t know what will!

You might be thinking there’s no way you can change your daily schedule to include more time for sleep. Believe me, I know the feeling. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day! I often find myself pushing back bedtime for more “me” time. Maybe it’s watching your favorite TV show, catching up on your favorite blog, or reading your Kindle. The funny thing about those activities is that they all involve looking at a screen. Those screens can keep us alert and not feeling tired! So, at some point, you need to turn off the TV, put down the tablet or smartphone and just go to bed!

Unfortunately, some of you try your best and still have trouble sleeping. Sleep aids are not always the best answer. Guess what? Exercising regularly is a big help! The endorphins your body releases during exercise can relieve stress and help you sleep at night! Beyond that, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and cutting out that nightcap can make a difference, too. Alcohol can make you drowsy, but can disrupt sleep and prevent REM and deep sleep. Taking a bath before bed, dimming the lights and avoiding screens (as I mentioned) can also help. At the end of the day, it’s all about establishing a consistent sleep schedule. Even exposing yourself to sunlight during the day can help set that schedule. The sunlight keeps you alert during the day and ready to sleep at night. Just one more reason not to skip that lunchtime walk! And, don’t forget, it’s never a bad idea to consult your doctor about your sleep troubles.

In my opinion, sleep is a part of living a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t get enough attention. Think of sleep as a priority! Include it on your daily To Do List. You’ll feel better and be more productive when you do.

Good night, and good luck!