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Distracted, moody, forgetful? Here's what might be wrong -- and how to fix it

Problems from lack of sleep can bleed into relationships, work

Kids, stress, work, perhaps simply life happening — they’re all reasons we may not be getting enough sleep, and they’re often things out of our control. But if you're regularly sleep-deprived, it's possible that you're affected by that lack of sleep every day.

Recommended sleep and lack thereof

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, along with the Sleep Research Society, recommends people ages 18-60 get at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Are you laughing right now? People actually get seven hours of sleep a night? You’re not alone in that frame of mind. More than one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How is it affecting you?

The CDC says getting less than seven hours a night can lead to an increased risk of developing chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and frequent mental distress.

But how does the lack of sleep bleed into our everyday lives?

Missing out on a good night’s sleep can have impacts on a number of everyday functions -- all of which can affect our relationships and work environment -- such as:

  • Making split-second decisions: A study done by the University of Texas at Austin showed that people who are sleep-deprived have a slower reaction time, which can be dangerous in a multitude of situations.
     
  • Being distracted: You might find yourself constantly getting distracted from what you’re working on. Your problem-solving skills and concentration simply aren’t meeting their abilities when you haven’t gotten enough rest. That might not be the type of performance that will have you providing raise-worthy work.
     
  • Perception and judgment: People are less efficient and less productive, leading to errors and accidents, some of which could even be deadly if you're behind the wheel -- and it happens to be a case of drowsy driving.
     
  • Mood: A lack of sleep can make you emotional and moody, as well as short-tempered, which can lead to experiencing anxiety and/or depression.
     
  • Sex: Experts at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center say many sleep-deprived men and women report problems with sex, likely because lack of sleep can lead to low energy and sleepiness, which can affect the libido or cause a decreased interest in sex.
     
  • Memory issues: While you sleep, your brain processes information from the day. You need sleep to make a memory "stick," so if you're not getting enough sleep, you may have trouble remembering things.

Some experts will tell you that you need to find a way to get more sleep.

Dr. Wayne Giles, the director of CDC’s Division of Population Health, said as a nation, we're not getting enough sleep, but consider the small things you can do to make getting to bed a few minutes earlier a reality.

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“Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night, rising at the same time each morning and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom can help people get the healthy sleep they need,” Giles said.

While that is sound advice, sometimes it's still just not possible. If you really are overtired and overextended, perhaps consider taking a day off (if you're able). With the issues presented above, you don't want to risk putting yourself or anyone else in harm's way.

No choice? Getting by on sleep deprivation

If you're plowing through with less than enough sleep, consider doing these things:

  • Have some caffeine (but not too much): Caffeine can temporarily cause you to be more alert, but try not to overdo it. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans say three to five cups a day is safe for healthy adults.
     
  • Catch some sun: The warm glow of the sun can be quite rejuvenating. Livestrong says when you’re out there, take a long, deep breath of fresh air. It will increase how much oxygen is sent to your body’s cells, which, in turn, translates to more energy and clarity of mind.
     
  • Get up and move: If you're just sitting there falling into the motions at your desk, you're more likely to feel more tired. Get up every once in a while to stretch and move your legs. 
     
  • Take a nap: It's a nice thought, huh? It might be unlikely to happen, but if you can squeeze one in, even just a 20-minute nap can help you to feel refreshed, according to an expert with the Harvard Medical School. Be careful about taking a nap that's much longer. If you fall into a short, deep sleep, that could make matters worse.

Do you consistently get less than seven hours of sleep a night? What do you do to make it through your day? Let us know in the comment section below.


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