The National Institutes for Health (NIH) recommends at least 10 hours of sleep for children, 9 for teenagers, and 7 for adults, but these numbers are not set in stone. (1) In 2005 to 2008, the CDC gathered data on self-reported sleep difficulties in the U.S., and nearly one-third of surveyed participants reported insufficient sleep. (2) 

It may be obvious that our connected world keeps us "on" and engaged more than it did 20 years ago; smart phones and personal computing keep people awake and active on their technology. Unfortunately, almost one-fifth of Americans have a sleep-related disorder. (2) Furthermore, many individuals have demanding jobs and scholarly responsibilities that require constant involvement. “Leaving work” might just be an empty escape into another workspace at home.

So, nocturnal college student, @@maybe you're more in debt than you thought.@@ This problem leads us to Dr. Dement, renowned professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University and one of the discoverers of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. He is the director and founder of the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center, and he has studied our nation's rampant sleep debt: the difference between required sleep and actual sleep duration. In an online article on his personal website, The Sleep Well, he says that “There is no doubt whatsoever that vast numbers of us in school, in the workplace, in the transportation industry, in a variety of service industries, and particularly, in shift work situations, are carrying a dangerously large sleep debt.” (3) 

He also strongly cautions that “drowsiness is red alert! Drowsiness is the last step before falling asleep, not the first. Imagine what that could mean when you're behind the wheel of a car driving on the highway. Drowsiness may mean you are seconds from a disaster.” (3) So, how can we combat this dangerous debt? The CDC has some "Sleep Hygiene" tips, which include "going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed, and avoiding nicotine.” (2)

To promote good sleep habits further, you should try your best to avoid digital screens before bed, but if you cannot, using a program like F.Lux dims your computer screen a yellow hue, putting less strain on your eyes and brain to fall asleep faster. Additionally, prepare your bed — fluff the pillow, fold open the sheets  for the night; consider it your bed's way of beckoning you to a deep slumber, or a beneficial psychological trick you can play on yourself. Finally, learn how to breath. The 4-7-8 technique is a breathing exercise to help you fall asleep started by Harvard Medical School alumnus Dr. Andrew Weil. The instructions:

1.) touch your tongue to the tissue behind your top teeth 

2.) breath in through your nose for 4 seconds

3.) hold your breath for 7 seconds

4.) audibly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds

5.) Repeat steps 2 through 3 (4)

Sleep debt held for too long can be detrimental to your health. Get motivated, get work done, but don't forget to get rest. Hopefully, these techniques will help reduce your debt to the sand man.

1. "How Much Sleep Is Enough?" The National Institutes for Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12 Feb. 2012. Web.

2. ”Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Mar. 2015. Web.

3. Dement, William, MD, PhD. “Sleepless at Stanford.” Sleepless at Stanford. Stanford University Center of Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders, Sept. 1997. Web. 

4. Weil, Andrew. “Three breathing exercises and techniques | Dr. Weil.” Dr. Weil. 2014. Web.

Photo by brewbooks via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.