Photo credit: Mike Kotsch,

Getting too little sleep increases the odds that you’ll be involved in a car accident.

According to a report recently released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who get six hours of sleep, instead of the recommended minimum of seven, are 1.3 times more likely to be involved in an accident — and those who get five hours are 1.9 times more likely. That means that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and the less sleep you get, the worse it gets.

With four to five hours of sleep, you’re 4.3 times more likely to have an accident and your risk skyrockets to 11.5 times if you drive after sleeping less than four hours.

Get Some Sleep for Better Mental Wellbeing

If lack of sleep has such a drastic impact on our ability to drive, it’s safe to assume that it’s affecting other aspects of our lives as well. In fact, the connection between sleep and mental health is well-established. Getting enough sleep can influence everything — from our anxiety levels and emotional stability to our ability to think clearly and remember.

Astonishingly, the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders with 20 million more reporting occasional trouble sleeping.

No wonder so many of us feel so frazzled!

Get (and stay) in a Natural Rhythm

Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, has conducted research about our 24 hour internal clocks — known as circadian rhythms — and has found that there’s a likely connection between abnormal circadian rhythms and mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

Other studies support his findings and have shown that nearly all psychiatric disorders are linked with some form of sleep disruption. In fact, the Sleep Research Society publication, SLEEP, reported that people with chronic insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop clinical depression and 17 times more likely to suffer from clinical anxiety.

Sleep is Important for Overall Wellbeing, Too

Even when mental illness isn’t present, lack of sleep can have a significant impact on your wellbeing. The connection between sleep and mental health shows that sleeping less than seven hours per night influences your attitude, energy levels, your mood, and emotional reactions. According to the National Institute of Health, lack of sleep also affects memory and attention.

Researchers believe that having sleep constantly disrupted actually changes the brain’s neurochemicals, which negatively impacts mood and thinking. Fortune Magazine recently reported the results of a survey conducted by RAND Europe called Why Sleep Matters—the Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep,” which estimates that America loses $411 billion and 1.2 million working days, per year, due to a lack of sleep.

What You Can Do to Get a Better Night’s Sleep (… and the benefits)

With such a well-established connection between sleep and mental health, as well as physical wellbeing, we all have plenty of incentive to get in our seven hours per night.

Here are a few tips to set yourself up for sleep success:

  • Support your circadian rhythms by establishing a sleep schedule with a designated bedtime and wake time every day.
  • Remove all devices from your bedroom — including phones, tablets, and TVs. If that’s not possible, use an app to automatically put your devices into sleep mode at a designated hour.
  • Quit caffeine after noon to give your body enough time to process and eliminate any that’s remaining in your system before bedtime.
  • Keep the room cool. Studies show that the optimum sleep temperature for most people is between 65 and 70 degrees.
  • Avoid alcohol. While a glass of wine may help you fall asleep quickly, alcohol interferes with your REM cycle, resulting in poor sleep quality.

The connection between sleep and mental health is clear. Neuroscientists like Russell Foster, along with many doctors, believe that sleep is one of the most important ways we can keep our bodies healthy and our brains functioning at their best.

If you’re looking for other ways to improve your health and wellbeing, consider working with a wellness coach to integrate healthier habits, or contact a life coach to help you organize your time, so you can get a little more sleep.

You’ll be amazed by what a big difference a little shut-eye can make! So, on the busiest travel day of the year, take heed. Your mind and body will most assuredly thank you.