I've had sleep problems for years so I'm always on the lookout for new research about the importance of getting enough rest every day. The latest comes from studies presented at SLEEP 2012, which is a meeting of sleep scientists from around the world.
Two studies caught my eye. One shows how sleep loss can make us gain weight by impairing the parts of the brain that control food choices. It helps to explain the connection between sleep problems and obesity, which has been noted in previous studies.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of 23 healthy adults on a day when they had enough rest and then after a sleep-deprived night. They found that sleep deprivation impaired activity in a part of the brain called the frontal lobe, which controls our ability to make complex choices - including choices about what food we will eat.
That may be why it's much easier to succumb to something unhealthy when we're tired. And those unhealthy calories can add up to extra weight if the sleep deprivation extends beyond a day or two - which is the case for so many of us.
Another study presented at SLEEP 2012 found that people over 45 who don't get enough sleep quadruple their risk of stroke symptoms. That study followed about 5,600 for six years and found that even if you eat right and exercise, lack of sleep can still increase the odds that you will have high blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
It's estimated that as many as 30 percent of American adults sleep six or fewer hours a day. Six is the minimum that sleep scientists recommend but seven or even eight hours may be better.
If you're having problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. Sleep problems can be a sign of a range of emotional and physical problems. Take your lack of sleep seriously. There is help available.