I have always been jealous of people who are good at sleeping. Try as I might, this is one skill that I have never been able to master. Even before I had children, I had a hard time stitching together a full night of zzz's from the time my head hit the pillow in the evening until I pulled myself out of bed in the morning. The only difference now that I have kids is that I often have someone or something to blame for my restless nights.  

My sleepiness has gone on for so long that I don't even really worry about it anymore. But according to a new study, I should start taking it more seriously. Sleep deprivation, as it turns out, is pretty bad for you and can lead to a whole host of health problems.

Most people laugh off sleep deprivation as a side effect of the modern 24/7 lifestyle, but it turns out that lack of sleep affects everything from reaction time behind the wheel to memory retention to your ability to make decisions. Studies also show that sleep deprivation is directly linked to overeating and a lack of motivation to exercise, making poor sleepers more prone to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

I am certainly not alone when it comes to sleep deprivation. According to the latest research, about one in five American adults are sleep deprived on a regular basis.  

So what can we all do about our collective lack of sleep?

Health experts recommend taking a close — and honest — look at the lifestyle habits that affect sleep. Diet, exercise, medications, caffeine, spicy foods, and certain medications can all affect your zzz's, as can daily schedules, stress levels, and other "environmental" factors. Some things — like that extra cup of coffee after dinner — you can control. Others, like the snoring husband or teething baby, may be a little more difficult to manage. But the key is to manage as many factors as you can so that sleep deprivation becomes more of an occasional experience than a lifestyle habit.  

Talk to your health care provider about the best ways for you to get a better night's sleep.

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