There are three types of people in this world: those who love sleep, those who avoid sleep, and mothers. I’ve always been a night owl, powering into the wee hours of the morning to get more done. Since becoming a parent, that preference seems to have become an imperative. Maybe you can identify?

But the last few years, my lack of sleep has begun to take a toll. Days following long nights seemed unbearable. I found myself drifting off whenever I sat in quiet, finding excuses to avoid work, and losing focus and concentration. It occurred to me one night, as my head bobbed for the twentieth time, that I should probably get more sleep. Coincidentally, a book popped up in my library suggestion list: The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington. This information opened my eyes (no pun intended) to the need for sleep— and the serious consequences of not getting enough.

Huffington paints a shocking picture of our chronically sleep-deprived modern society and the effects on individual lives.  She describes her own routine lack of sleep, which ended when her body simply shut down and she passed out. She argues that, in our revved up modern culture, skipping sleep has become a sign of commitment to work, exhaustion a badge of honor. Mothers are particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation as they do double shifts at work and at home.

You’re Not “Off” When You Sleep

We tend to think of ourselves in machine-like terms. We are “on” when awake and “off” when asleep. But The Sleep Revolution makes one thing very clear. Our bodies are not “off” during sleep. Rather we should think of being asleep and being awake as two different but complimentary processes. One of the facts I found most compelling is that the brain clears itself of toxins while we rest. There are many things we don’t yet understand about sleep but one thing is clear: sleep is active.

Healthy Side Effects of Sleep

The phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” often runs through my head, but I never realized that this attitude can hasten the final outcome. The health effects of sleep deprivation are many, varied — and serious. Huffington cites research from all over the world that links lack of sleep to everything from mood disorders to heart attacks. Basically, your entire system suffers when you don’t get enough sleep. It turns out that, when it comes to our health, sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. A sleep-deprived person  is five times more likely to feel lonely and seven times more likely to suffer from depression. Our cognitive, emotional, and memory abilities are all seriously impaired by lack of sleep. Your body is less able to regulate weight when you don’t get enough sleep. According to research, a small shortage of sleep even shows on your face.

Make Sleep a Priority

The fact is, we all need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Any less than that and our appearance, health, and performance all take a hit. I’m not kidding myself: I am a mom, which means time is at a premium. Just because I now understand the importance of sleep doesn’t mean I can wave a magic wand and create more hours in the day. But I hope that this information will help me (and you!) begin to treat sleep as a priority, not an after thought.

May your dreams be sweet!