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A Society Without Sleep

Operating on less sleep is almost viewed as a badge of courage, as if a lack of sleep means that you've evolved into a sort of super human who doesn't need such mundane things as food, water and sleep.
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How do you start your morning? If you're like most people, you likely shower, dress and then use one of the biggest Band-Aids available to us: caffeine. Whether it's a double espresso, a pot of tea, or my personal favorite, the Americano, most of us turn to caffeine to give us the jolt we need to get through the day -- but is our societal crutch more serious than we think? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a nationwide study revealing that 35 percent of Americans are not getting the recommended seven plus hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. Over one-third! This trend isn't new -- over the past several decades studies have shown we're sleeping less and less as a nation. Some of this can be attributed to insomnia and other underlying health issues, but for the rest of us? We're just self-restricting our sleep, meaning that our schedules and behaviors are cutting into our sleep time.

As a society, we just don't appreciate the value of sleep.

Think about it: Operating on less sleep is almost viewed as a badge of courage, as if a lack of sleep means that you've evolved into a sort of super human who doesn't need such mundane things as food, water and sleep. In many professional circles, if you you send a work email at 2 a.m., your boss thinks of you as a hard worker -- not someone who puts sleep at the bottom of his/her priority list.

Stress is also a big factor. Financial challenges, demands at home and the stress of the workday certainly aren't going away any time soon. A recent global survey showed that 28 percent of people say that financial concerns have kept them up at night, and a quarter of respondents say that that work gets in the way of quality sleep. We've all had those racing thoughts at night: "Am I going to be let go?" "Will we be able to pay our bills this month?" "Is my kid going to be okay?" It's human, and it's natural.

But what happens now is that instead of managing those worrisome and stressful thoughts in a healthy way, we turn to our electronics as a way of distracting ourselves and escaping from the things on our mind. Social media, Candy Crush and other electronic distractions are our new bedmates. Not only do these devices have a physiological effect by emitting a blue light that makes it difficult to fall asleep, but they also have a psychological effect by distracting us not just from our stress, but also from quality sleep.

The culmination of all of this is that we're a sleepless society. But because we have a great Band-Aid in the form of caffeine, it makes it difficult to understand just how sleep deprived we really are and why we need to take our lack of sleep seriously. Awareness is imperative when making any sort of proactive change, and this year I'd like to challenge the nation's status quo of accepting poor sleep.

This Friday marks the 9th annual World Sleep Day, where groups around the globe raise awareness of our sleep behaviors and challenges. I urge you to use this opportunity to think about your relationship with sleep. Whether you decide to start a sleep journal to see how you are doing, cut out caffeine altogether or just in the afternoon to see how sleepy you really are without the band aid, put down your electronics earlier, or just make an effort to go to bed a half hour earlier (assuming you do not have insomnia), just spend a bit of time thinking about your sleep and steps you can take to improve your sleep quality and quantity.

So rip off the Band-Aid and start actively engaging in your own sleep. It's the first step that will help our society rethink the value we place on sleep.