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What sufficient sleep does for the human body

Sleep is an often unsung hero of overall health. Diet and exercise get their fair share of glory, but without a good night’s rest, even the most physically active, nutrition-conscious individuals are vulnerable to a host of ailments and illnesses.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most adults need seven or more hours of sleep on a regular schedule each night. Athletes may even benefit from additional sleep. In fact, a 2011 study published in the journal Sleep examined the effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. That study found that athletes asked to extend their normal sleep times exhibited faster sprint times and increased free-throw accuracy and a reduction in fatigue at the end of the sleep extension period.

Improved athletic performance is not the only way that sufficient sleep benefits the human body.

Sufficient sleep and the immune system The Mayo Clinic notes that the immune system releases proteins called cytokines during sleep. The release of certain cytokines needs to increase when individuals are experiencing infections or inflammation, which is one reason why doctors often recommend extra sleep to sick patients. Without adequate sleep, the immune system may not produce enough cytokines, and that can increase the frequency with which individuals get sick.

Sufficient sleep and weight gain The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports there is mounting evidence to suggest a link between insufficient sleep and weight gain and obesity. Studies exploring this potential link have been conducted for decades and have examined how sleep affects people of all ages and genders. At the 2006 American Thoracic Society International Conference, researchers who had tracked women’s sleep habits for 16 years found that those who slept just six hours per night were 12 percent more likely to experience major weight gain than women who slept seven hours per night. Experts aren’t entirely sure why this relationship exists, but the results of various studies support the idea that insufficient sleep is a potential catalyst for gaining weight.

Sufficient sleep and chronic disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of various chronic diseases. For example, the CDC indicates that insufficient sleep has been linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition, the CDC reports that instances of hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and irregular heartbeat are more common among individuals with disordered sleep than they are among people without such sleep abnormalities.

Sleep is not often mentioned alongside diet and exercise as a vital component of overall health. But a good night’s rest is no less vital to long-term health than a healthy diet and physical activity.

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