Nearly half of all Americans reported having difficulty sleeping. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that about 35% of people surveyed in 12 states said they slept less than 7 hours a night on average.

A national survey reported that, 23% had trouble concentrating because they were tired, 18% had trouble remembering things and 11% had difficulty commuting or driving. In addition, 48% said they snored, 38% admitted to unintentionally falling asleep during the day and almost 5% reported falling asleep or nodding off while driving over the prior 30 days!

"Insufficient sleep will make it difficult to function and can reduce the benefit of hormones released during sleep," say co-authors Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, of the new book, TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (BSH, 2011). "Some consider it a badge of honor to get by on as little sleep as possible. This is a big mistake. Most of us require at least 8 for optimal function and health."

In their book, the Griesels remind us that for tens-of-thousands of years before the introduction of electricity and light bulbs, people rose and set along with the sun. This seems to be the natural rhythm we were designed to follow. Late night TV, stimulants and meals have disrupted this cycle along with work schedules and the proliferation of ambient light all throw off our natural circadian rhythms. This disrupts the normal production of melatonin, which is our natural sleep hormone.

Melatonin has many biological effects and it is also a powerful antioxidant with a particular role in the protection of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Levels of the hormone melatonin vary in a daily cycle according to circadian rhythms that are also responsible for several other biological functions.

It's best for our bodies to cycle through the five known sleep stages four or five times a night. The first four stages are key to maintaining healthy metabolism, learning and memory. The fifth, rapid eye movement sleep (REM) is important for regulating mood and forming emotional memories. Regularly missing a cycle or two and your brain function, immune system and heart health will suffer.

You can take the following steps to improve your sleep time:

- Exercise regularly but at least 3 hours before bedtime. An evening walk is best.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine like reading, taking a bath or relaxing in a hot tub. No TV.
- Have a cup of chamomile tea an hour before bedtime.
- Get to bed at a regular time to ensure at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, cool and comfortable.

Business School of Happiness