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Sleep plays critical role in maintaining good health

Wednesday - 6/19/2013, 8:38am  ET

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A large number of the human body's functions and systems can be shortcircuited by chronic sleep deprivation. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - Your mother always said you need your beauty sleep.

What she really meant is you need to get enough sleep to ward off colds, avoid making bad decisions, stay awake at work and even to reduce your risk of heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes and to avoid gaining weight, according to medical experts.

Sleep experts with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic say poor sleep can affect the "heart, lungs and kidneys; appetite, metabolism and weight control; immune function and disease resistance; sensitivity to pain; reaction time; mood; and brain function," The New York Times reports.

In the long term, a lack of sleep may shorten your life. It can increase the risk of depression, substance abuse and cancerous colorectal polyps.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain in adults, and when not counteracted by fewer calories and more exercise, the gain can add up to 10 pounds a year.

In children, inadequate sleep could disrupt their growth and muscle repair. And children with sleep problems could show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder even though they don't have the condition.

Learning, memory, judgment and problem-solving are all impacted by how much sleep a person gets.

And because sleep affects nearly every tissue in the body, researchers say it's as important as every other measure of your health.

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