Ahhh, sleep! This little thing called sleep can really have an impact on your day -- in both good and bad ways. When you aren't able to get enough, it can take a toll on your mind, body, and overall health. When you get too much, it can affect you in similar ways. But, getting the right amount can do wonders for you. Imagine feeling refreshed, energized, and on point all day long -- amazing!

So, let's look at it from the "lack-of" perspective first. Not getting enough sleep can trigger effects in your body such as your immune response. A 2009 study tracked 153 men and women's sleep patterns for two weeks before exposing them to a cold virus. Those with appropriate levels of sleep, around eight hours a night, were more likely to stay healthy than those who slept an average seven hours or less.

Not getting enough sleep can also lead to weight gain. Especially in children, lack of sleep can disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite. Lack of sleep also makes you tired and fatigued, making it less likely that you will be active and get enough exercise according to recommendations. When you don't exercise and eat more, you gain weight. When you gain weight, you are susceptible to a whole 'nother slew of health problems -- among them, diabetes.

Those who sleep less than five hours a night, on average, are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The reasons for this are similar to the ones found above.

Weight gain and diabetes, if left unresolved put you at greater risk for heart disease -- here is where we start the slippery slope. Sleep apnea, a cause for some people not getting their required slumber, can also increase your risk of heart disease. This condition, where you stop breathing or your breathing shallows during sleep, makes you three times more likely to develop heart disease because it can cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). I don't know if I should tell you this, but having heart disease also increases your risk for stroke and heart failure.

Another obvious effect your sleep patterns can have on you is your mental state. I don't know about you, but If I don't get enough sleep, I am sure to be grumpy the next day. But it goes further than that. Those with a history of insomnia are four times more likely to develop depression and/or anxiety.

So, are you convinced about how important your zzzzzzzz's are yet?

So, what if you like sleep too much? If you are lucky enough to have the time to sleep more that you need to, you should be aware that too much sleep can be detrimental to your health as well. Experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If you far exceed this number, you are likely to be sleepy throughout the day and be more likely to suffer symptoms like depression, anxiety, low energy, and memory problems. It can also lead to higher risk for diabetes, obesity, headaches, back pain, and again, heart disease.

So, it is possible to swing too far one way or another.

Moral of the story here? Aim for seven to nine hours of slumber each night. Of course, children may require more, but that is a good general target. The benefits are bountiful! By getting the proper amount of sleep, you are more likely to have a healthy heart, less stress, an increased state of awareness, better memory, and even be a little smarter.

So be sure to get to bed early tonight and rest up!

-- Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDE

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