By now you know yourself pretty well. How much sleep do you need? How much sleep do you actually get on a regular basis? The difference between your two answers can mean the difference between joy and pain. Eight hours needed minus six hours slept, equals an uphill battle from the time you pull back the covers and make your way into your day.

As we approach daylight saving time, when our sleep pattern is forced to readjust, yet again, let's consider what this fundamental and biological need means to our quality of life and how you can possibly increase one of life's most accessible luxuries.

I call sleep a luxury, because so many of us seem to lead lives in which we are not getting the amount of sleep we need and likely desperately want. The National Sleep Foundation says sleep is essential for a person's health and well-being. Eight hours, give or take, mostly give, seems to be the average sleep requirement for healthy adults. Despite our needs, millions of us fall short of that 8-hour marker as a standard rule. While researchers have pinpointed scientifically our sleep optimization, we all know from personal experience the payoff of an adequate, sound slumber.

Surely you can attest to the glorious feeling you've had, at least once in your lifetime, when you woke well rested and satisfied. When you wake from a great night of sleep, unless there's a fire alarm going off, you experience a fluid transition from sleep to wakefulness and it's like being in a euphoric dreamland and ... all is well. (Until of course, you completely wake up and think about your "to do" list. ) Why would so many of us give up this free opportunity for feeling our best? For some of us, it's not an option.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute found that groups most at risk for sleep deprivation include physicians, residents, truck drivers, teenagers, parents and night shift workers. Let me toss in morning news anchors, who are up preparing for work during night shift hours. What if you are a truck driver AND a parent, double whammy! Studies show sleep deprivation leads to a myriad of health issues, from high blood pressure, over eating and sugar cravings, to forgetfulness and of course the ugly moodiness and overall cranky disposition. What can we do to guard against loss of sleep and keep this free, magic potion flowing in our lives? That depends.

Consider the following:

Before getting into the list, a key ingredient to better sleep is your commitment to getting great sleep. You have to value sleep in order to make any of the following work:

  • A. Go to bed within a half-hour of the same time every night and wake within a half-hour every morning, with a goal of getting your optimal sleep hours. Studies show regulating your sleep this way promotes better and deeper sleep.
  • B. Invest in room-darkening drapes. The sun helps set our circadian rhythm, telling us when to wake and sleep. You might sleep more soundly in complete darkness. If not the drapes, maybe you could use a sleeping mask. Cute.
  • C. Turn on some neutral, constant sound, like a desktop fan. The sound can drown out other ambient noises and maybe even some of your pressing thoughts.
  • D. Put your children to bed earlier. It may sen like a fantasy, but it's doable. Start out with just 10-15 minutes earlier. Once the house is quiet, you can have some downtime to unwind and get to bed earlier.
  • E. Consider calcium supplements an hour or so before bed. The supplements benefit your body and promote noticeable relaxation in some. You can even try putting the contents of the calcium capsule in warm milk or tea. (Consult a doctor before you using supplements, of course)

SLIDESHOW:

Scientists say sleep is an evolutionary and biological part of being human. It's still a mystery why we need sleep, but researchers have found some evidence that during sleep our bodies are repairing cells, replenishing our energy, doing critical brain work like organizing information gleaned from the day, and replaying moments of the day which reinforces our memories. And you thought you were just wasting time. No, sleep is the great balancer, the tamer of the beast, the free elixir at your disposal. So draw the drapes, put your cell on silent and make your pillow time a priority. The world will be a better place for it.

That brings me to another thing.......we?ll talk about that next time.