Those of us who tend to burn the midnight oil way past midnight are in for some sobering news. Lack of adequate sleep is not a joke. Scientists even have a name for how we function.

It’s called operating in an “underslept state”. With our work schedules, school schedules, and electronic devices to keep us busy at different hours of the day and night, it’s no wonder that people regularly clock in less than seven hours of sleep per night.

Besides your mood suffering, your immune system, metabolism, and heart also take a hit when you have sleep deprivation. Insomnia and other sleep disorders affect so many people that getting the ideal 7-8 hours almost seems unheard of.

So, what’s being underslept? It’s when a person gets six hours or less of sleep at a time. Sleep expert Matthew Walker of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley wrote a book entitled Why We Sleep, which details how sleep affects our physical health, ways to improve our sleep patterns, and things that affect our sleep negatively like alcohol and caffeine.

In an interview with NPR, he discusses common myths about sleep and small behaviors we can change to catch more zzz’s. One of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind is what to do if you can’t sleep. You lie in bed, tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling. Thoughts run through your mind. It’s frustrating.

Walker suggests that when that happens, you shouldn’t keep lying in bed. This is because you’re training your brain to connect the bed with wakefulness when you stay there alert. You should get up. Switch rooms – preferably to a dim one – and try going off to read a book.

Meditation will also help the brain to change gears (and can be done in or outside of the bedroom). Both activities can slow the brain down and help calm your mind. Be sure to leave any devices alone as they can further disturb your circadian rhythm.

Once you’ve gotten sleepy, then get into your bed, giving your brain the chance to properly associate sleep with the bedroom.

The other thing that Walker points out is that the idea of catching up on sleep is a myth. Many of us have the notion that we can make up for lost sleep on the weekends. However, he states that there is no such thing as a “sleep bank”, where you pay back what was lost the next night or in a couple of days.

Although we may think we can fool our brains and bodies that way, it just isn’t true. If you missed it, you missed it and there’s no way to get that lost sleep back. The advice he offers is to allow yourself (or kids) to get a good, deep rest for at least eight hours. If there’s a need to sleep longer, go for it.

To hear more about Walker’s book, click on this short vid below. If you’re not getting enough rest, you’ll want to do what you can to change that for your own health.

How many hours of sleep are you averaging? Have you noticed a decline in your physical or mental health when you don’t get enough? Do you want to change your sleep habits?