(Contributed: Nutrition World)

Everyone knows sleep is important for quality health. But not everyone realizes what can result from sleep deprivation.

Missing a few hours of sleep one week may not put you in a bind. If, however, missing a few hours per week becomes routine, it’s easy to slip into an unhealthy sleep pattern, eventually cutting back on sleep hours regularly.

As lack of sleep becomes habit, your body will eventually respond, causing your fight or flight hormone, cortisol, to increase. Over long periods of time, this increase can be destructive and may cause brain fog, fatigue, weight gain and anxiety. Besides increasing cortisol, lack of sleep can also increase blood sugar, blood pressure, tumor growth and heart disease.

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Choosing to lose out on sleep is something that can be fixed with schedule adjustments and lifestyle changes.

Stay consistent

Maybe you skip out on sleep during the week but make a point to sleep extra on the weekend. This is another habit I highly discourage. Your body and brain need you to sleep every night and won’t respond well to a mismanaged sleep schedule.

Taking naps won’t fill in the sleep gap, either.

Napping can energize the brain but won’t make up for sleep deprivation. Chances are, napping when sleep deprived will just remind your body how much it craves sound, deep sleep, causing you to feel worse upon waking.

Set clear boundaries

But all hope isn’t lost. You can improve your sleep habits by settling in to sleep, giving your brain and body time to slowly unwind.

Think about it this way: Going from full activity to full rest is like pulling your car in the garage at full speed and slamming on your brakes. You wouldn’t want to put your car through this, but that is what happens to your body when you don’t set aside time to intentionally move in to sleep.

I encourage you to stay mindful about your sleep routine up to two hours before bedtime. Also, practice good sleep hygiene:

—Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, within a 60-minute time frame.

—Move all electrical devices at minimum five feet from your head.

—Avoid drinking fluids two hours before bedtime.

—Set your bedroom temperature between 67 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit, not exceeding 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

—Sleep in total darkness and also wear a sleep mask to insure no light enters the eye.  Any amount of light will disrupt your sleep cycles.

—Limit distractions and disruptions to sleep. Don’t use a device before bed or fall asleep to Netflix. Likewise, if your partner or dog is disrupting your sleep, consider moving to another room to sleep.

—Practice staying mindful of your breathing, letting go of tension and staying focused on the present.

—Fall asleep long before midnight.

—Use special tape to ensure your mouth stays closed at night. Mouth breathing at night is totally disruptive of deep sleep and your health.

I’ve written a free eBook on the 20 steps needed to insure quality sleep, in case you want to read more in depth on this topic. You can access this eBook here .

And if you want to incorporate mindfulness but don’t know where to start, I suggest trying out yoga.

At Nutrition World, we offer yoga taught by excellent practitioners, two additions to our team include Deborah Huntington and Anthony Crutcher. To learn more about our yoga program, click here .

Use natural products

If you want to optimize your sleep patterns, consider taking natural and relaxing herbs and supplements.

For instance, if I wake during the night, I take GABA, which calms my mind, allowing me to fall back to sleep. But GABA is just one of at least 40 various sleep products that we offer at Nutrition World . Finding the right sleep product for you is a process that involves trial and error. But do remember that no natural product will lull you to sleep for a full seven or eight hours; sometimes, you may need to take something twice.

Take care of yourself

Be sure to check in on how you are doing and be mindful of how much sleep you get every night.

If implementing sleep habits and taking natural products aren’t making a difference to your overall sleep deficit, there could be something more serious going on.

Know this: A disruptful sleep pattern that lasts over three months and happens at least three times a week could be chronic insomnia, a condition that will cause your physical and mental health to suffer. Read more about insomnia here and here . If you are experiencing continued trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor.

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