You’re not doing yourself any favors by skimping on sleep. Here’s why.

Are you getting enough shut-eye? Sometimes? Rarely? If you're one of the one-third of American adults who fall short of the seven hours recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the consequences are more than just feeling a bit snoozy.

woman asleep wearing sleep eye mask
Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

Sleep deprivation can increase your risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety. On the flip side, getting your Z's has serious payoff: A recent study out of King's College London found that sleeping longer can lead to reduced sugar consumption and a better diet, among other benefits. Plus, some research suggests that getting enough sleep equates to higher success and/or pay at work. (Our unscientific research has shown it also prevents homicidal thoughts on crowded public transportation.) 

"Sleep allows the body to recharge and helps lock in things you learned during the day," says William O. Roberts, M.D., professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Follow these four steps to sleep like a dream.

1. Chill out

Research shows that humans sleep better in cooler temps, so aim to keep the temp between 60 and 67 degrees. Your furry friend, though, probably isn't as picky.

2. Go to bed hungry

OK, not really, but give yourself two to three hours between eating dinner and trying to sleep, advises Helen Agresti, a registered dietitian and founder of Professional Nutrition Consulting, based in Pennsylvania: "Going to bed right after a meal increases your risks of acid reflux and other digestive issues." At the very least, you can expect to toss and turn because your body is still working. If you need a little something, nibble on some tart cherries, a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin.

3. Work your muscles

That Pilates class isn't just helping you tone your arms and legs—it can set you up for a peaceful night, too. Regular exercise can help keep you alert during the day and make it easier to sleep, says Roberts. The best time for a sweat sesh varies from person to person: "Some need to wind down at the end of the day, and heavy exercise may get them too revved up," he says. For others, an evening fun run might help tire them out. Find your sweet spot and plan your workout accordingly.

4. Power down

We know you know, but you're still not listening so: Put your phone down at least one hour before bed. That's an order! Screens emit a wavelength that can increase alertness and keep you from reaching that critical REM sleep mode. Avoiding them in the evening allows your body's circadian rhythm to transition into presleep relaxation and produce melatonin. Charge your devices in another room. And read a book or a magazine or chill out with a warm bath or shower before hitting the sack.

5. Hydrate

We all know water is good for our health, but it plays a part in sleep quality, too. "If you don't drink enough during the day, you may wake up to drink water," says Felicia Stoler, a registered dietitian nutritionist and exercise physiologist based in New Jersey. And those horrible leg cramps that come in the middle of the night? They've been linked to dehydration. Your best bet is to start early and stay consistent. Trying to chug three glasses after dinner to hit your daily quota will likely wake you up to sprint to the bathroom.