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Four ways sleep impacts your mental and physical health

Posted: December 17, 2014 10:32 a.m.
Updated: December 17, 2014 10:29 a.m.
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Sleep is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, according to health and safety researchers.

According to health and safety experts, sleep is serious business -- footie pajamas and fuzzy slippers aside.

“All human capabilities can be degraded or impaired due to insufficient sleep,” tweeted the National Transportation Safety Board during a recent Twitter #SleepChat hosted by National Institutes of Health.

Sleep has been in the spotlight this month in the wake of a new documentary, “Sleepless in America,” produced by the National Geographic Channel, National Institutes of Health and the Public Good Projects. The projects have had particular resonance in the business community, Deseret News National reported, because American workers are notorious for burning the midnight oil in order to answer a few more emails or finish a project.

But initiatives like the Twitter chat seek to return the discussion of sleep to a more general audience, reminding people that it’s not just 9-to-5 workers who should worry about logging enough Zzz’s.

Here are four ways sleep impacts everyone’s mental and physical well-being:

1. Sleep recharges the brain

In a section of its website titled “Understanding Sleep,” the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains that sleep is a basic human need, like eating or drinking water. It’s essential to proper brain and nervous system functioning because it gives the body a chance to recover from everyday life.

“Activity in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making processes and social interactions is drastically reduced during deep sleep, suggesting that this type of sleep may help people maintain optimal emotional and social functioning while they are awake,” NINDS reported. Without adequate sleep, people lose the ability to concentrate and often experience mood swings.

2. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain

One unexpected result of a sleepy brain is a decreased ability to resist tempting junk foods. The New York Times reported last year that sleep deprivation has been linked to increased desire for fattening foods, because the ability to weigh the consequences of an extra helping of dessert is reduced among exhausted eaters.

As the Public Good Projects tweeted during #SleepChat, “A good night’s sleep is just as important to a healthy life as diet and exercise. We need to start giving it more respect.”

3. Bad sleeping habits have been linked to mental illness

Although researchers have traditionally concluded that mental illness causes sleep problems, newer studies show that the reverse might also be true. One 2007 project detailed in Scientific American found that emotional reactions to traumatic events are heightened among sleep-deprived individuals.

Additionally, “chronic sleep problems affect 50 to 80 percent of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10 to 18 percent of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” Harvard Health Publications reported.

4. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to serious conditions like heart disease

When people consistently fail to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, the body becomes susceptible to serious illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and depression,” The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported.

An infographic from the National Health Sleep Awareness Project noted that people need to heed warning signs like dozing off while driving or experiencing fatigue regularly and make adjustments to their sleep practices in order to guard against these serious conditions.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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