By Kelly Werthmann

(CBS4)– Simply put, most of us do not get enough sleep. Whether it’s stress, busy schedules, or the inability to stay asleep, there are a number of reasons we aren’t catching enough Zs.

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Even though some people can operate on just a few hours of sleep, it’s important to get 7 to 9 hours of rest. That’s what we’re biologically designed to need, says CBSN Denver Health & Wellness Contributor Erica Ballard.

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“When we don’t get that, things happen to our body,” Ballard said. “Sleep helps us stay healthy.”

For those who think they can make up for lost sleep during the workweek over the weekend, think again. Ballard explained sleep studies show we only have a 24-hour cycle to do that.

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“What’s really important about getting sleep is, think about a cell phone charger,” she told CBSN Denver’s Kelly Werthmann. “There are wires in the middle which are like our nerves, and around it is a special coating. That’s like myelin (the insulating layer made of protein around the body’s nerves), and it starts to erode when we don’t get enough sleep which increases the aging process. So we want to make sure we get that sleep tonight, or within that 24-hour cycle, because otherwise that starts to pull (like a cable) and bad things start to happen in our bodies.”

Ballard offered some advice for getting more adequate sleep, which includes creating “white space.”

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“Many people say they have trouble falling asleep because their minds are racing,” she said. “Well, our minds are racing because the brain needs unstructured time in order to just be. Whenever we’re on our phones all the time – scrolling Instagram, listening to podcasts – our brain doesn’t have that space, so it uses it at the end of the day when our heads hit the pillow. So in order to increase our ability to fall asleep quickly, we need that space to speed up what we’d like to do which is sleep.”

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Also, spending time outside and getting a workout is key to better sleep.

“Sunlight actually helps regulate our circadian rhythm,” Ballard explained. “That’s the internal process that regulates our sleep/wake cycle. The more we go outside, the more our body gets exposed to sunlight, which tells our body whether to rev up or decrease the amount of energy.”

As for working out, most people tend to think it’s all about muscle gains and losing weight. In fact, workouts are for sleep, too, Ballard said.

“Study after study shows people who workout go to bed quicker, or rather fall asleep faster, and sleep deeper,” she said. “They actually sleep longer. The best part is, you don’t need to workout two to three hours a day to get these results – you just need 30 to 45 minutes a few times a week.”

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For more of Erica’s health and wellness tips, visit her website: https://www.ericaballardhealth.com/

Kelly Werthmann