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Admittedly sleep-deprived TODAY hosts get tips

Dec. 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM ET

Video: Carol Ash, director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health, talks about a new study that suggests that sleep-deprived Americans may not be catching as many winks as previously thought.

It's not all that surprising that two early-rising TODAY stars often get less than the recommended amount of sleep.

But you, too, could be one of the “walking zombies” in our midst, the kind who fails to get enough sleep, yet manages to power through the day.

On Thursday, TODAY’s Willie Geist and Jenna Bush Hager discussed Self magazine’s December article called “You’re Even More Tired Than You Think,” and offered tips to help everyone get a better night's rest.

Self found that most people are unknowingly too tired, a collective exhaustion that is taking a toll on health and happiness. On average, adults are sleeping six and a half hours a night, it said.

That rang true for the TODAY hosts, with Hager reporting that although her baby daughter, Mila, sleeps through the night, she often sleeps for six to seven hours, while Geist reported six hours of shut-eye.

Is that enough, the hosts wondered? No, it is not.

“The range is seven to nine,” Dr. Carol Ash, director of Sleep Medicine at Meridian Health in New Jersey, told them. “Six and a half is definitely not enough. On average, we need about eight hours. And we’re very sleep deprived as a nation.”

Self cited a study from the University of Pennsylvania that found that people who got six hours of sleep a night for two weeks had lost the same amount of focus, alertness and working memory as people who had been awake for 36 hours.

The test subjects didn’t even feel that tired after the first two days, and researchers theorized that the brain might stop registering messages of exhaustion from the body once they become routine, the article reported.

“It makes your brain fuzzy, you’re less alert, your reaction time is terrible. You can’t remember anything,” Self deputy editor Meaghan Murphy said on TODAY. “It really does have an impact.”

“The craziest is that we don’t realize how sleep deprived we are,” she added.

“Basically, what these latest sleep findings are telling us is that we're all walking zombies and completely clueless about it,” the Self article concluded.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to impaired decision-making, weight gain because of an increase in ghrelin, the hormone that regulates appetite, and can weaken your immune system.

The three ways to know you’re not getting enough sleep, Self says:

  • Do you rely on caffeine every day to make it until nightfall?
  • Do you need an alarm to get up on time?
  • Do you have to sleep in for hours on the weekends?

To sleep better, Ash and Murphy recommended:

  • Cool your room by three degrees. “You maintain sleep in a cooler environment,” Ash said.The sweet spot, Murphy added, is 68 degrees.
  • Cut down on liquids - whiskey if you’re like Geist, or water for Hager, before bedtime. “Alcohol will help you fall asleep, but it disrupts the normal sleep patterns after you’re asleep, so you’ll have poorer quality of sleep,” Ash said. And you will probably need to get up to go to the bathroom.
  • Turn off the screen, one hour before bed, and yes, that includes the iPad. “Make your bed a quiet space,” Murphy said. “When you get to bed, it’s lights out.”
  • Drown out disturbances with white noise. “It will block out all the intrusive thoughts and …the environmental noises,” Ash said.

You can also use a fan, as Murphy’s husband prefers. “It’s just that gentle whir, like a lullaby,” she said.

The Self article urged people to stop treating sleep as a luxury.

“We have to make sleep a priority,” Ash said. “We kind of talk ourselves into, ‘I’ve earned the right to sit here with this book or watch TV.’ You’ve got to get away from that and just get to bed.”

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