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Sleep Your Way To Optimal Health

Sleep Your Way To Optimal Health

Here's something to keep you awake at night: Insufficient sleep on a sustained basis can be detrimental to your health in more ways than you might have imagined. Consider it a good time to be thinking about a good night's sleep because May is Better Sleep Month.

A consistent shortage of shut-eye at night has been linked to numerous health-related issues ranging from physical to psychological. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to increase susceptibility to colds, flu, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other physical ailments as well as impaired cognition and decision-making, such as when driving a car or performing work at the office.

"Not getting enough sleep affects your emotional regulation. When you're overtired, you're more likely to snap at your boss, or burst into tears, or start laughing uncontrollably," WebMD quotes Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, a college psychology professor and author of Sleep Deprived No More.

Lack of sleep is no laughing matter: it reportedly can negatively affect one's creative juices (consider this a wakeup call for artists, designers and writers, among others), sex life and ability to maintain or reach a healthier weight. Researchers, according to WebMD, have found that sleep deprivation can reduce the level of the hormone leptin, which acts as a hunger suppressant. Sleep too fast and, well, welcome to the munchies.

Millions of Americans fight the good fight to stave off obesity, striving to stick to programs predicated on diet and exercise -- eating the correct quantities of the right kinds of food, and getting enough proper exercise on a consistent basis. Now you can add a third pillar to your quest for a healthy, desired weight – diet, exercise and sleep, and plenty of the latter.

A Stanford University study of college football players, reported on health.com, found that the athletes enhanced their sprint times and stamina by aiming for 10 hours of sleep a night for seven to eight weeks, producing results similar to other studies done on tennis players and swimmers. Ten hours of sleep a night might be too much to ask of most working folks, but getting at least eight vs. seven or less can make a world of difference.

According to WebMD, researchers, who in one sleep study monitored the sleep habits of 150 people over a two-week period, found that those who got seven or fewer hours of sleep a night were three times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept eight hours or more.

"Sleep is a quiescent period where the cells are doing a lot of repairing. Your hormones act differently when you're asleep, and your immune system as well," says Dr. Lisa Shives, founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Chicago, as reported by WebMD. "If your immune system is out of whack, you can't fight off illness -- and I would venture to say that you can't repair your cells very well, either."

If you're getting less than eight hours of sleep a night, do your immune system -- and your boss -- a big favor: Start going to bed an hour earlier than usual. Just maybe you can sweet-dream away a few extra pounds while you're at it.