4 Signs You're Not Sleeping as Well as You Think You Are

Your body may be running on fumes, but don't worry: These sleepy sloths will set you straight.

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For many of us, sleep is like a bad high-school boyfriend: He shows up just enough to keep the relationship going, but he usually can't be found when you need him most. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 45 percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affects their daily lives at least once a week. That's a lot of bad boyfriends.

Sleep deprivation (aka short sleep duration, which is defined as getting less than seven hours of zzzs per night) is linked to many serious health problems, including being at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, frequent mental distress, and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Then there are the more obvious and immediate problems, including mood and performance issues. And don't even get us started on the under-eye bags.

Even if you think you get plenty of high-quality sleep, it's still possible you're not getting the sleep you need and just don't know the signs. The good news? You can begin to turn your chronic sleep issues around within a matter of days, says Michael J. Breus, PhD (aka The Sleep Doctor), clinical psychologist, clinical advisory board member of The Dr. Oz Show, and author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.

"If you start going to bed at a consistent bedtime for seven to 10 days, you will begin to make up for some of that lost sleep and be on a better path," says Dr. Breus, who (with the assistance of a few sleepy sloths) shares some of the not-so-obvious signs that your body is craving more shut-eye below:

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You fall asleep right away.

"The No. 1 sign that someone is sleep deprived is that they fall asleep very, very quickly, almost to the point where they fall asleep as their head hits the pillow," Breus says.

He explains that someone who passes out within five minutes of hitting the sheets isn't just tired: They're over-tired. "Sleep is not an on-off switch — it's more like slowly taking your foot off the gas and slowly putting your foot on the brake," he continues. "There's a process that should occur."

The process of drifting off to sleep should take between 15 to 20 minutes and involve a number of bodily changes, including a lowering of body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. "But when your body is so exhausted from sleep deprivation, it actually pushes you into sleep extremely fast."

You hit the snooze button — a lot.

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Nearly 60 percent of Americans make a habit of hitting the snooze button – and will spend three-and-a-half months of their lives doing so, according to a 2014 study conducted by Withings and covered in Sleep Review. But just because it's common doesn't mean it's good for you. Needing more than one round of extra snoozing can be a sign of sleep deprivation.

"It's a sign of someone who is not going to bed at the right time," Breus says. "When you wake up in the morning, it should take you between five to seven minutes to actually begin to feel alert. But if you're routinely hitting the snooze button, that's obviously not the case."

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Your diet isn't working.

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"For years we've known the more sleep deprived you are, the slower your metabolism will be," Breus says. "And if you have a slow metabolism, it's very hard to lose weight. Even if you're eating well, lack of sleep could even be causing you to gain weight."

The reason: Sleep deprivation can disrupt the normal levels of two "hunger hormones": ghrelin, which increases appetite, and leptin, which decreases appetite. When you don't get enough sleep, ghrelin levels rise and leptin levels fall, which can leave you feeling ravenous and lead to overeating and/or poor food choices.

Researchers continue to find connections between lack of sleep and obesity. In fact, authors of a 2012 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal strongly advised that getting enough sleep should be included as part of a prescribed weight-reduction program.

Your workouts feel extra hard.

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Sure, sometimes a workout can feel like, well, work. But if you're finding that you're suddenly struggling to make it through your typical yoga or Zumba routine, there's a good chance your body is wiped out from lack of sleep.

"There's an interesting area of study called exercise perception, which focuses on how much effort you perceive you need to put into your exercise routine," Breus explains. "And this is indirectly related to sleep deprivation because the more sleep deprived you are, the more effort it feels like you have to do the same exercise."

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