It doesn't take a rocket scientist – or a somnologist – to figure out that sleep impacts our health. What many of us don't know, is just how many different aspects of our functioning sleep can affect. "It's not just diabetes, it's not just heart disease; it's memory, learning, depression, mood," says Kristen Knutson, a National Sleep Foundation poll scholar and assistant professor of medicine at University of Chicago. "There's a huge effect of sleep across the board for us, throughout our lives."
We aren't yet able to calculate the perfect amount of sleep for each person, but studies have shown that seven to eight hours of quality rest is likely the sweet spot. In order to achieve optimum sleep, Knutson says people should do their best to stick to a sleep schedule, shut down electronics well before bedtime, and recognize that sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Poor sleep has been linked to all kinds of heart problems, including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Just a single bad night can cause a person with hypertension to have elevated blood pressure throughout the next day. Knutson says part of the problem seems to be that lack of sleep not only reduces activity of the parasympathetic nervous system but increases that of the sympathetic nervous system – the one we associate with fight or flight.
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