William Shakespeare isn’t the only one to espouse the benefits of adequate sleep. The question remains, however: How much is enough? Certainly, not enough sleep can be detrimental to your health, but can you also suffer health risks from catching too many zzz’s?

Daniel Kripke, co-director of research at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in San Diego, Calif., compared death rates among more than 1 million American adults who reported their average nightly sleep totals. He recently discussed the results of his findings in Time magazine.

According to Kripke, “Studies show that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hours a night, as they report, live the longest. And people who sleep 8 hours or more, or less than 6.5 hours don’t live quite as long. There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hours. Sleeping 8.5 hours might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hours.”

He added that risks for various illnesses, such as depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes increase both with not enough and too much sleep. ‘Morbidity [or sickness] is also ‘u-shaped,’ in the sense that both very short sleep and very long sleep are associated with many illnesses.”

Finally, getting out of bed when you’re not sleepy and restricting your time in bed actually helps you to sleep more. Kripke noted this helps people get over their fear of the bed. “Spending less time in bed actually makes you sleep better. It is, in fact, a more powerful and effective long-term treatment for insomnia than sleeping pills.”

Carb, no carb, low fat, raw food or prepackaged – which diet is your current favorite? In the quest to lose weight and live a healthier life, we have become addicted to following the latest trends in the diet world.

When the latest trend appears, we automatically think it’s what we’ve been looking for the entire time. Some people seem to find the right fit and the results are amazing. For the rest of us, we might see some short-term improvement, but soon revert to our old habits of eating on the run, missing meals and not finding time to exercise. No matter which diet or combination of programs you choose to help you lose weight, there are a few common threads linking all effective diets and weight-loss protocols. Focus on these common concepts and take the first important steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

Most weight-loss protocols generally focus on limiting what you shouldn’t eat and decreasing the amount of food you should eat. Some diets have their own spin on what which types of foods are best to eat (or avoid) to achieve optimum weight loss. These diets have been successful for people who consume meals high in processed foods, limit the variety of foods they eat and/or often eat on the run. The guiding principle to remember is to introduce better mixes of foods into everyday meals. This helps your body change the way it uses food to make energy.

We also have to get more involved with our food choices, particularly when to start and stop eating. Diets do this by emphasizing the elimination of excessive eating, sugars and unnecessary calories, while introducing different food options that support weight loss instead of weight maintenance. Diets promoting foods higher in protein help by slowing down sugar absorption and providing essential amino acids for muscle growth. High-complex-carbohydrate diets help reduce appetite by prolonging the feeling of fullness (satiation) and improving intestinal movement.

Fasting or eliminating allergenic foods can help cleanse the body when done for a short duration. They also help decrease possible inflammatory responses to foods while giving the digestive system time to heal so problem foods can be reintroduced at a later date. These types of restrictive diets should be done under the care of a physician or dietitian, due to complications that can arise if used too long or in the wrong circumstances.

While considerable focus is placed on the types of foods we are or are not eating, liquid intake can be just as important. Empty calories in soda, additional caffeine and stimulants from coffee, and even excessive water consumption can leach out essential electrolytes from the body. The overall idea with restricting what we eat is to decrease the amount of energy used to break down what goes in and increase what comes out – namely energy. It also can help with certain medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and chronic allergies, all of which have a strong correlation with food intake.

A secret about the scale is that it doesn’t care how much weight you gain or lose, or if it’s accurate at all. So much emphasis is placed on the measurements we see and less so on how we feel. Changes in numeric measurements should be slow and gradual, which indicate healthy weight loss and ultimately is the best way to keep the weight off. Dramatic weight loss often leads to rebound weight gain once people begin to slip from their program’s strict regime. Positive improvements such as increased energy, more restful sleep, changes in how clothes fit, and improved attitude toward continuing lifestyle modifications are all steps in the right direction.

Diet, exercise, and weight-loss trends seem to change over time, but our goal to win the battle against the bulge remains constant. Looking beyond what you’re not eating and drinking is important in any weight-loss program. Consistent exercise, dealing with life stressors, and settling realistic goals are keys to successful weight loss. So, the next time you hear about a new diet program, think about how it’s different from and similar to all the rest. It might just help you choose the right program for your lifestyle goals and long-term health.