What came first, the chicken or the egg? A good night's sleep is often the barometer of good physical and mental health. In other words, when you are happy and healthy, you sleep well. It's as simple as that, right? Well, partly. Now there is a growing body of evidence that sleep deprivation, in and of itself, can be a catalyst for a number of chronic health problems.

Here is Dr. Nina's what you need to know about how getting a good night's sleep can be the key to good health

Migraines: Poor sleep not only can cause a migraine, but also can make them more frequent in people who suffer from them. Research has shown that sleep deprivation actually increases proteins that trigger pain in nerves. It's no surprise then that when bad sleep habits are addressed, the frequency of migraines often decreases.

Weight gain: Not getting a good night's sleep can cause even the most disciplined eater to have their food cravings skyrocket. One study showed that it can result in consuming up to 1000 extra calories in a day. On the other hand, sleeping well can increase your fat burning time zone which coincides with deep levels of sleep. Losing weight without breaking a sweat? I'm all for that!

Heart disease: Did you know that sleep deprivation is associated with ill-effects on your heart? In addition to increasing blood pressure, the release of stress hormones, and heart rate, it can increase the risk of heart failure. What better way to keep your heart healthy and ticking than to get your ZZZ's?

Infection: Want to avoid catching a cold or the flu? Then hit the sack! While we are sleeping, our body utilizes energy to recharge and rejuvenate our immune system. If our immune system is not charged and ready, it increases our chances of getting sick. Studies have even shown that vaccines-which stimulate the immune system to create antibodies to fight off bacteria or virus-can be less effective when we are sleep deprived.

Pain: Talk about a Catch 22. Having pain prevents you from sleeping. But not sleeping can increase your sensitivity to pain. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase proteins that trigger sensitivity of our nervous system and decrease proteins that "calm" it down. The best treatment for that pain may be to get a good night's sleep.

Diabetes: Sleep loss can cause insulin resistance, a precursor for diabetes. Insulin's job is to help the body use glucose for energy. When there is insulin resistance, cells fail to use the hormone efficiently. Good sleep can help keep your blood sugars where they need to be.

Cancer: Researchers have found a shocking link between a lack of sleep and several types of cancers, including prostate, breast, and colon cancer. This association is likely due to the fact that insomnia affects our immune system, which is important in fighting off abnormal growth, or cancer, in our body. All the more reason to get our ZZZ's.

Dementia: Deep sleep cycles are necessary for preserving our memory. During these sleep stages, memory consolidation and sorting occurs, much like when you back up your hard drive on your computer. Additionally, insomnia has been associated with increased levels of Alzheimer's biomarkers. One way to maintain our memory is to not forget to sleep.

Depression: Sleeping well and our mood are intimately connected. So much so, that curing insomnia in people with depression has been shown to double their chances for a full recovery.

Let's add sleeping well to our list of "To Do's" in our journey to live healthy lives. That's easier said than done. And I, for one, speak from experience not just as a physician who puts patients to sleep, but also as someone who has suffered from insomnia. Stay tuned over the next several weeks for a more in depth look into What You Need To Know to get a good night's sleep. Until then, sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite.

Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at drninaradcliff@aol.com

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