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.
A three-year study of over 20,000 people found that, compared to individuals who slept seven hours, those who slept less than five were more likely to experience weight gain and become obese. There are probably various reasons for this but Knutson says one culprit may be hormones that control our appetite. "Studies have seen that if you sleep restrict somebody, they do tend to eat more, even though everything else is controlled for," she says.
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