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Sleep Well - Your Life May Depend On It

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An unfortunate part of our modern-day busy lifestyle is chronic sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lack of sleep has become a major public health concern, with insufficient rest being linked to medical problems, accidents and occupational hazards. People who regularly stay awake for too long are at a higher risk of developing illnesses like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and also mental issues like depression and memory loss, the agency warns.

While many young people may feel they can burn the proverbial midnight oil without paying much of a price, shortage of sleep and sleep disruption can wreak havoc on their middle-aged and older counterparts in ways not truly appreciated until recently.

A new study from the University of Toronto, Canada, found that older people who have trouble sleeping are in greater danger of suffering a stroke and/or other mental health problems like memory loss and dementia.

Waking up several times during the night, a.k.a. sleep fragmentation, is tied to subtle changes in the brain due to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to reduced oxygen supply and, in turn, to more serious damages like strokes, says Dr. Andrew Lim, a neurologist and lead author of the study report.

But it's not just the elderly who should adhere to a healthy sleep regimen. Just one single restless night can negatively affect mood, concentration, attention span and other cognitive functions in people of all ages. In fact, as one study found, a night of disturbed sleep is like having a regular eight-hour sleep period cut in half.

Several consecutive phases of fragmented rest could result in negative health consequences on par with chronic sleeplessness, according to Dr. Avi Sadeh, a clinical psychologist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, and leader of the research project.

While sleep disturbances can occur throughout life, it gets harder to stay asleep as we age, for multiple reasons. Stress, anxiety, changes in the body's internal clock, chronic diseases, certain medications, consumption of alcohol and caffeine, or use of nicotine and drugs can all be contributing factors. And, of course, diet also plays a role.

According to one study, a high intake of saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep. By contrast, eating greater amounts of fiber, as found in plant-based foods, can help enhance sleep quality.

Besides diet, regular exercise is also recommended for improving one's restfulness. Physical activity does not only tire us out in a good way, it also reduces stress and lowers the risk of weight gain and related diseases -- all of which are known to interfere with sleep.

In other words, the better we take care of your health needs in the daytime, the better we can rest at night.

Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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