The effects of sleep deprivation have vast implications on psychological, physical and social health, plus occupational well-being and driving safety, reports U.S. News & World Report.

Total sleep deprivation (24-plus hours of being awake) can cause significant impairments in attention, memory and mood, with lesser effects on motor skills and complex tasks. The impact of chronic partial sleep loss – what most of us experience on a regular basis – has received far less attention.

Attention is the cognitive ability most easily influenced by sleep deprivation. As the day wears on, deficits in attention increase and your ability to focus on tasks becomes erratic – not good for procrastinating teens who save up homework and test cramming for the last waking minute. Memory behaves in a similar manner, as does the brain’s reward system, which controls motivational behaviors like risk-taking and impulsivity. Sleep loss impairs rational decision making when we’re challenged with making difficult choices.

A great example of this involves desirable foods and illustrates key connections between the brain and gut. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation is associated with increased hunger and cravings for high-calorie, high-carb foods, such as fast-food and sweets. Lack of sleep increases gherlin, a hunger-controlling hormone, while decreasing leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone – ultimately leading you to cave and devour the chocolate cake waiting patiently in your refrigerator. Getting regular adequate sleep can get your diet back on track.

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