Paws and Claws Deserve Some Applause: Pets and Mental Health

Earlier this month, a UK meta-analysis of existing academic research concluded that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Led by the University of Liverpool’s Dr. Helen Louise Brooks, the analysis reviewed 17 separate studies, which in total included data from 1727 pet owners. The studies covered a gamut of pets, including dogs, cats, birds, horses and more.

Among the psychological benefits provided by pets, Brooks’ review pointed to studies that evidenced the significant benefits of canine companionship for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Physical activity and exercise, a strong mental health management tool, was also correlated with dog ownership, leading to better quality of life outcomes and increased social interactions – important things to keep in mind, next time you feel like skipping out on walking Spot.

As the meta-analysis notes, despite the identified benefits of pets, they’re often overlooked as effective tools or seen as “additional work” by health professionals. Brooks’ calls for a “cultural change” that allows pets to be considered and included as part of the support systems provided through formal service provision.

While Brooks’ recent study is an important confirmation of the healing power of pets, a growing trend recognizing the psychological benefit of animals has been popping up on campuses for years now.
Across universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, “puppy rooms” have been organized to give students a respite from studies and the opportunity to destress in a positive, furry environment.

Students are also increasingly seeking to bring their own pets to school with them to serve as “emotional support animals”. A 2016 article from the American Bar Association identified that the rise in mental illness on campuses is also correlated to the rise in emotional support animals by students –creating at tricky legal and housing landscape for schools and students to navigate. One interesting way to address, creating designated “pet” floors, was raised in a 2015 University of California, Berkley article.

Ultimately, while this study is further proof of the power of pets, it seems that the secret has been out for quite some time: approximately 63% of households in the United States have a companion animal. Dr. Maggie O’Haire, Assistant Professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, also notes that outside of our homes and campuses, the presence of animals in our workplaces can also help reduce stress.

Dr. O’Haire is also currently managing a study looking into the health, emotional and social quality of individuals and families living with service dogs versus those on the waitlist to receive a service dog. If you’ve read the rest of this blogpost, the results so far shouldn’t come as a surprise: individuals and their families that already had a service dog showed better social and emotional functioning compared to those without.

And for all those reading along that have felt that this post was all bark and not enough meow, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation 2011 study found that of 600 people surveyed, 87% of cat owners felt their felines had a positive impact on their wellbeing and 76% reporting that they helped them cope better with everyday life.

There’s no doubt that pets can help us achieve mentally healthier lives. For some people, their pets’ unconditional love and companionship is the reason that they continue to be, and work to be, happy. While the old adage, “dogs are a man’s best friend” still rings true today, the growing evidence shows that it’s not limited to canines: wings, scales, claws and fins, whether 2 or 4 or 8 or no legs at all, pets can be a profoundly powerful tool for helping us realize our best selves – for us, and for them.

Work Hard, Feel Good: Exercise and Mental Health

In our last blogpost, Don’t Go it Alone: Relationships are the Key to Mental Health and a Long Life, we unpacked the affirming revelations of Harvard’s Longevity Study and its conclusions on the power of strong social relationships for achieving a long and happy life.

This week, we look at another important tool for building and maintaining optimal mental health: exercise. A growing body of research continues to illuminate the importance of caring for your body as a way to care for your mind.

Studies show that physical activity can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, in a number of ways, including:

Release healthy biochemicals: If you’ve ever heard of “runner’s high”, you’ve heard about endorphins. These “feel good chemicals”, are released naturally during high-intensity exercise and can help improve brain function and boost your sense of well-being.

Build your brain: As Harvard also notes, low-intensity exercise sustained over time spurs the release of proteins called neutrotrophic or growth factors. Studies show that the hippocampus region of the brain tends to be smaller in those that are depressed. Exercise, however, can boost nerve cell growth in the hippocampus and improves nerve cell connections, helping relieve depression.

Boost self-esteem: Sadly, those with intense dissatisfaction with their appearance are “more likely” to be depressed, anxious and suicidal than those and poor mental health. While we should strive to ensure those around us are comfortable with their appearance and provide support to those that are not, exercise can be a potent tool to helping improve positive self-image and self-worth.

Fight off addiction: As the New York Times notes, those who exercise more are much less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, if compared to inactive people. In a 2012 study, exercise was shown to help those suffering undergoing addiction treatments improve their health and increase confidence in the ability to remain clean and sober. Some experts also point to the benefits of replacing “artificial highs” from drugs and alcohol with happiness and euphoria inducing biochemical, like endorphins that are released during exercise.

Make new friends: We’ve already discussed the power of social relationships to boost happiness; so naturally, team sports can be a great way to build supportive relationships and experience camaraderie. In a recent German study, researchers found that individual athletes were more prone to depressive symptoms than those who played on teams. That’s not to say you should pass on participating in solo sports but instead, find ways to ensure you experience that companionship with your competitors.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. While that might not be true, there is growing evidence that shows exercise can help alleviate or keep poor mental health at bay. So whether it’s starting to go for daily walks or joining your hometown sports league, it’s never too late to get moving and get happy.

Colleges are finally taking student mental health seriously; but more must be done.

It’s been nearly 15 years since Congress passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) in 2004, in response to the suicide of Senator Gordon Smith’s son Garrett Lee a year earlier, while attending college in Utah. He was 22. The bipartisan supported Bill recognized the growing mental health crisis on college campuses and created and funded programs to address mental health in the young, including a Campus Suicide Prevention program. Since then, the GLSMA has bolstered campus mental health and suicide prevention programs across the U.S.

Today, the evidence shows that America’s postsecondary institutions are recognizing the need for greater mental health awareness and ensuring that staff have the resources they need to support students. In 2016, the majority of college counseling centers reported an increase in funding from their universities. Schools are enhancing important mental health resources like 24/7 crisis counselors and online therapy assistance, as well as other approaches, like therapy dog sessions and other wellness oriented activities. Other campuses are partnering with non-profit programs, like the Jed Foundation, which provides participating schools with a framework to better equip schools to help solve mental health issues.

And more and more, faculty and students are taking another crucial step in building a more supportive environment for students experiencing mental health issues by raising awareness and working to end the stigma. This is an important evolution at colleges across the world that must be celebrated.

However, it is clear that more can be, and must be, done.

While mental health resourcing has increased at colleges across America, so too have student enrollments and students seeking mental health services. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that while enrollment grew by 5.6% between 2009 and 2015, the amount of students seeking mental health services increased by 29.6%. There was also a marked increase in medication, hospitalizations and suicide attempts between 2010 and 2016.

Anxiety and depression continue to be the biggest mental health issues afflicting students. Between 2011 and 2016, undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” rose 12% from 50% to 62%; overtaking depression for the most common reason for students to seek counselling services. The American College Health Association recently reported that nearly 37% of students declared they were “so depressed that it was difficult to function” within the last 12 months. This data represents a significant recent increase in mental health issues and service needs on campuses.

With increased student demand for mental health services and an insufficient supply of therapeutic resources, more and more professors are stepping up to plug the gaps. As Slate reports, some schools are offering faculty development programs and training instructors to recognize symptoms and to assist students in crisis. While the training is beneficial, it is unsafe to assume this model can effectively substitute for professional therapy and support services.

While schools must get better at ensuring sufficient supports are available, they must also ensure they’re collecting data to better understand and prevent the consequences of significant mental health events, like suicide. In early 2018, the Associated Press’ annual suicide statistic survey revealed that nearly half of the largest public universities in the United States are not tracking student suicides –an omission that makes it harder to adapt campus policy and save lives.

Ultimately, it is clear that while schools are taking steps to address student mental health, more must be done if we’re going to solve the crisis on our campuses. School faculty and management must continue to work to ensure sufficient mental health services are available to meet student needs. Students must continue to fight to end the stigma around mental health issues and assist classmates that are in need. Together, we can help build an educational experience that is safe, supportive and leaves no one behind.

Relationships are the Key to Mental Health and a Long Life

In 1938, Harvard University researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in a study that would extend through their entire lives. The purpose: to determine if there were key psychosocial predictors of healthy aging and happiness through life.

The Grant Study, and the subsequent Glueck study tracked participants’ as they graduated into careers, to marriages, children, divorces and other milestones, through medical records, in-person interviews and questionnaires.

More than any other factor, including pre-existing health conditions, IQ or wealth, satisfaction with one’s close relationships was the best predictor of a long and happy life. Closely linked was marital satisfaction, which had a “protective effect” on the participant’s mental health.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that those who lived longest avoided smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. While the physical dangers of cigarettes and alcohol use are well known, less acknowledged are their correlations with mental illness.

Scientific American recently reported that while overall smoking rates have dropped from 42 per cent in 1965 to 15 per cent in 2015, those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorders accounted for “nearly 40 per cent of cigarette consumption by US adults in 2009 and 2011”.

For Robert Waldinger, current director of Harvard’s longitudinal study puts it, loneliness kills, and it’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.

For many, the answer is simple: continue to work to maintain good relationships with friends, family and colleagues throughout your life to help achieve a happy and long life.

For those feeling isolated and lonely – it’s not too late to nurture new relationships and to watch them flourish. Harvard also recommends exploring community social activities as a way to meet new people. Whether it’s volunteering or joining a sport’s team, new friends and better health could be just around the corner. It’s not just your health either – reaching out to someone might just help improve their quality of life as well.

And according to researchers from Northwestern University and the University of California, having different friends to help with specific moods can lead to greater well-being and life satisfaction. So treat life like a garden, nurture your relationships and help them grow and while you’re at it, cultivate many different friends for all of life’s moments. Can you dig it?

Social Media and Mental Health: What do you need to know?

It’s no understatement to say that social media has revolutionized the world we live in.

The way we meet, engage, discuss important issues, do business with each other, fall in love and stay connected can all be conducted on the many platforms and offerings that the digital realm of social media has provided. Today, over three billion people – approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population – use social media daily, cataloguing their lives and observing others. Since the first social media site in 1997, the social media community has grown exponentially, resulting in users spending hours online digesting social content, which has been good for site traffic and the bottom lines of social giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

But is it for us? A new series by BBC Future is exploring how social media’s impacts our mental health, for the better or the worse. As the investigation acknowledges, our ability to examine the long-term effects of social media are limited by its relatively recent arrival and mass acceptance. But there’s a growing body of science that is dissecting what social media is doing to our brains and what that means for our wellbeing. Here are a few of the studies the investigation has shared so far:

STRESS: A 2015 Pew Research study found that while Twitter can be a significant contributor to stress, the more that women used Twitter, the less stressed they were. While the study also found women reported higher stress levels than men, the de-stressing effects of Twitter usage were only concluded in women.

ANXIETY: A 2016 US study concluded that people using seven or more social media sites were more likely to experience high levels of general anxiety symptoms, compared to those who used up to two platforms.

DEPRESSION:  According to two studies that involved more than 700 students, the quality of online interactions, including social media were linked to depressive symptoms. Poorer interactions resulted in more severe depressive symptoms.

SLEEP:  In a 2016 study, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that the more often 18-30 year olds logged into social media, the more likely they were to suffer from disturbed sleep. Evidence has shown that the blue light emitted from device screens can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin – a hormone that enables sleep.

SELF-ESTEEM: Call it selfie sadness? Penn State University researchers found in a 2016 study that looking at strangers’ selfies resulted in a lower self-esteem for the viewer. The phenomenon was linked to viewers comparing their own state to the seemingly happy demeanor of the person in the selfie. In addition, frequent selfie viewing was linked to decreased life satisfaction.

RELATIONSHIPS: In a 2009 survey of 300 people between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers from University of Guelph in Ontario found that women were more likely than men to report Facebook induced jealousy after their partner added an unknown member of the sex.

So should we sign-off from our social media accounts for good? Hold on – while there’s a lot of evidence out there demonstrating that social media’s ills, there’s also reason to believe that it can have a positive impact. Like anything, it seems that moderation is key – a 2017 evidence review by the Education Policy Institute found that a moderate use of social media can have a “beneficial impact on young people’s emotional wellbeing.”

Social media platforms are also taking note of the growing concern about how social media impacts our mental health. In December 2017, Facebook announced it was enacting changes to its site to help improve the site’s effect on our wellbeing, including enhancing news feed quality, introducing suicide prevention tools and allowing us to “Snooze” a person, page or group for 30 days without having to permanently unfollow or unfriend them.

Social media has become an important part of our daily lives but that doesn’t mean we should let it control our lives. Go ahead and log on once in a while and focus on having positive interactions online and you’ll be much happier for it.

Mindfulness training can help students keep calm and carry on in exam season

A new study from the University of Cambridge recommends that mindfulness training can ward off mental illness and boost student mental health over the demanding exam season.

The practice of “mindfulness” has captured many minds in recent years as a capable approach to focus attention on the present, achieve calm and combat depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

One group of the study’s participants took part in an eight-week course, guided by a certified mindfulness teacher and were also encouraged to practice mindfulness activities, like meditation, mindful walking, eating and more. The other group were only offered traditional university support and counselling services. The study’s results showed that that while students without mindfulness training experienced increased stress throughout the academic year, distress scores among the mindfulness group fell below their baseline levels, even during exam season.

Researchers designed the program to optimize wellbeing and mental health resilience for students by promoting values like self-compassion, self-discovery and empowerment. Over 600 Cambridge students took part in the study.

The study comes at an important time. As the Guardian reports, students seeking counselling services rose by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in the UK. The need for greater access to mental health services across campuses is growing, and the need for new strategies, like mindfulness training, could help.

In Canada, the American College Health Association’s 2013-2016 survey of 25,164 Ontario university students found that cases of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts have all risen approximately 50 per cent. A Toronto Star and Ryerson survey also found that the average increase for mental health budgets across 15 Canadian universities and colleges reviewed was 35 per cent.

Researchers concluded that mindfulness training could be an effective component of a wider student mental health strategy. While the study suggests that mindfulness training is a potent tool for students to maintain and improve their mental health, findings on its effects on exam results were inconclusive.

4 Tips for Setting New Year’s Resolutions

The new year is upon us, but if you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions will fail by the time February hits. According to Forbes, only eight percent of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re already falling behind this year, don’t fret. It’s never too late to reevaluate your fitness and health goals. Start with these four tips for setting New Year’s resolutions that stick.

Start Small

One reason New Year’s resolutions fail is because people set large goals that quickly become overwhelming. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed with your New Year’s resolution, take a step back and consider ways to simplify your goals.

For example, instead of focusing on losing sixty pounds this year, start with the small goal of losing five pounds this month. It’s essentially the same goal, but focusing on the smaller, shorter term goal is more manageable. Plus, once you accomplish this goal once, it makes doing it again next month that much easier.

Another reason simplicity helps is because it keeps your focus from being pulled in too many different directions. If you resolutions list is long, consider cutting it down to one or two of your most important goals.

Be Specific

Another reason people fail with their New Year’s resolutions is because they aren’t specific with their goals. For example, you might decide to “exercise more.” The problem with this resolution is that it provides no direction. What exactly does this mean to you?

A more specific goal would be to do thirty minutes of cardio three days per week. By defining your goals like this, you can better track and measure them to ensure you’re on the track you want to be on.

Stay Accountable

It’s easy to give up on your goals when you’re not being held accountable for them. That’s why it’s a good idea to get other people involved in helping you achieve your goals. For example, you might hire a personal fitness trainer to help you reach your fitness goals. With someone besides yourself to answer to, they’ll be able to help you stay on track, keep your appointments, and push toward the goals you want to achieve. You might also:

  • Document your journey on social media
  • Share your successes and setbacks with a friend or family member
  • Keep an accountability journal
  • Join a group—such as a fitness class or online support group—of like-minded individuals with similar goals

Don’t Get Discouraged

A minor setback does not equate to failure. Unfortunately, many people will see it this way and give up far too early.

Let’s say your goal is to exercise three times per week. Due to unforeseen circumstances, you miss a workout session and only get in two workouts that week.

This does not mean you’ve failed. It does not mean you have to cancel all future workout sessions.

Don’t let one missed session discourage you. Simply pick up your regularly scheduled workout sessions next week, and continue pushing toward your goals.

Remember, you are in control of your success. Setting small, specific goals, staying accountable, and not giving up will help you achieve your dreams.

3 Common Types of Mental Illness and Their Symptoms

The first full week of October marks Mental Illness Awareness Week. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, and since it doesn’t get talked about much, it can be difficult for people to spot mental illness in themselves and their loved ones. That’s why we’ve put together this list of common mental illnesses and their symptoms. Check it out.

Anxiety Disorders

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. These disorders affect 40 million American adults, or approximately 18 percent of the population. In Canada, it’s estimated that a quarter of the population will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.

Examples of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias

These conditions are characterized by an abnormal fear or dread response due to certain stimuli or situations. Individuals with anxiety may also suffer from physical symptoms such as sweating and rapid heartbeat. Anxiety is a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders are so severe that they interfere with normal functioning.

Mood Disorders


Depression is a type of mood disorder commonly grouped with anxiety disorders because people who have one of these mental illnesses are at higher risk of the other. In the United States, depression is the leading cause of disability for individuals ages 15 to 44, says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There are several forms of depression, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression among many others.

Depression occurs when persistent feelings of sadness affect your daily life. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Loss of interest
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety

Bipolar Disorder

Similar to depression is bipolar disorder. It’s another type of mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behaviors and suicidal tendencies. It also results in changes in sleep and behavior. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include periods of extreme happiness contrasted with symptoms of depression. Each state can last for weeks, months, or even years before patients flip-flop to the other.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can also be tied to anxiety. These are disorders that involve extreme emotions and behaviors related to food and weight. Common eating disorders include the following:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia patients view themselves as being overweight despite being extremely thin. This leads to unusual eating habits like avoiding food or weighing their food before eating it. They may also obsessively check their weight and engage in other techniques for losing weight, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. This can lead to serious medical conditions like low blood pressure, anemia, thin bones, and infrequent periods.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is similar to anorexia because it involves a fear of weight gain. However, bulimia is characterized by behavior of binge-eating and purging, such as through the use of laxatives or vomiting. This can cause sore throat, swollen glands, gastroesophageal reflux disorder, kidney and intestinal problems, and severe dehydration.

Binge Eating Disorders

Binge eating is unlike anorexia or bulimia because patients do not obsessively purge their bodies following a binge. However, they do tend to experience guilt or shame about their eating habits, which leads to further binge eating. These patients may have anxiety, depression, or other psychological disorders, and they tend to be overweight or obese, which increases their risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, consult a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and recommendations for your treatment options.

Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Suicide

This year, National Suicide Prevention Week runs September 10-16, with World Suicide Prevention Day falling on September 10.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide claims the lives of nearly 800,000 people annually. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds across the globe. Estimates show that for every adult who succeeds in suicide, another 20 have attempted it.

The stats are particularly troubling among young adults, as it’s the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15 to 29. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have shown clear warning signs.

Suicide prevention starts with learning to identify the warning signs and risk factors so that you can help your loved ones get the care they need before it’s too late.

Warning Signs of Suicide

The warning signs of suicide may develop slowly over time, which can make it difficult to identify if a loved one is at risk. Many of these signs may seem harmless on the surface but be causing serious internal distress. Some of these signs that are harder to spot include:

  • Mood swings, especially bouts of sadness or rage
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Withdrawal from everyday activities or social situations
  • Personality changes

More serious signs of suicide involve engaging in dangerous behavior, such as taking drugs or driving recklessly. Some people who consider suicide will talk or write about it. You may notice they show more interest in the topic of death, talk about being a burden to others or that life doesn’t have a purpose, or even outright threaten to end their own life. These threats should always be taken seriously.

A person who has decided to commit suicide may exhibit sudden calmness, which is a sign that they know their life is going to end soon. Others may make preparations, such as by creating a will or visiting family and friends to say goodbye.

Risk Factors of Suicide

Suicide is not limited by age, gender, race, nationality, or other demographic, nor does it have one single cause. However, some people are at higher risk than others.

Suicide rates are highest among the elderly, teens, and young adults. Risk factors include:

  • Past trauma, such as abuse
  • Recent death in the family
  • Overwhelming stress, such as following a job loss or divorce
  • Family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Long-term illness
  • History of mental disorders, especially clinical depression
  • Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
  • Previous suicide attempts

Individuals, especially teens, with little to no social support are also at high risk of suicide. This may include support within the family, community, or school.

Preventing Suicide

If these warning signs and risk factors remind you of yourself or a loved one, prevention is possible.

It starts by seeking out support or lending your own support. A strong social network can drastically reduce suicide risk by giving the individual a trusted outlet to work through their problems. In combination with that support network, or if that support network is not available, clinical care can also help individuals recover. These programs may focus on mental health, physical disorders, or substance abuse.

If you believe a loved one is in danger of taking his or her own life, be there to show you care. Do not leave him or her alone, and be sure to remove any possible weapons from the area. Encourage your loved one to remain calm and to seek psychiatric care. In some cases, immediate medical attention may be required.


How Does Sleep Affect Your Overall Health?

Are you getting enough sleep at night? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of adults aren’t getting the sleep they need, and you could be one of them. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults ages 18 to 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.

Getting enough sleep isn’t just about how you feel the next day. Over time, it can have a profound effect on your health. Here are just five ways sleep affects your health.

Sleep Affects Your Cardiovascular Health

When you sleep, your body is working to repair itself. This is especially true when it comes to your heart and blood vessels. Getting too little sleep is said to increase your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Researchers suggest two ways in which this link occurs. The first is through direct physical changes and the other is through behavioral factors that impact both your sleep patterns and your heart. According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals who sleep fewer than six hours per night are twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke compared to those who sleep six to eight hours, and that’s when accounting for weight, age, and smoking and exercise habits.

Sleep Deprivation Increases Obesity Risk

Another physical impact of sleep is on obesity, where too little sleep increases your chances of gaining weight. Obesity puts a strain on your bones, muscles, blood vessels, and other organs to negatively impact your overall health. This can increase your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Infertility

The Harvard School of Public Health suggests several reasons behind the sleep-obesity relationship. Among them, it’s believed that sleep-deprived individuals may exercise less because they don’t have the energy. Not getting enough sleep can also increase your daily caloric intake. This is because lack of sleep impacts hormone balances, particularly those that control appetite. Not only that, but people who sleep less have more opportunities to eat throughout the day, so they’re bringing in more calories overall while burning fewer calories.

Sleep is Associated with Immune Function

Research suggests that individuals who don’t get enough sleep have a harder time fighting off common infections than those who get enough shut-eye at night. Your body uses proteins called cytokines to promote sleep, and when you’re sick or stressed, these cytokines need to increase to help combat symptoms. However, getting too little sleep decreases production of cytokines as well as antibodies, making it harder for your body to fight infection.

Sleep Impacts Mood and Decision-Making Skills

While you’re sleeping, your body isn’t just recharging on the physical level. It’s also working to refresh your mental capacities. You’re probably familiar with how a sleepless night leaves you irritable in the morning, but long-term sleep deprivation can severely impact your mental health. According to researchers, there’s a strong link between sleep and emotional regulation. Sleep plays a large role in memory, mood, decision-making and problem-solving skills, and creativity. Therefore, the amount of sleep—and quality of sleep—you get can greatly affect your performance in school and work.

Sleep Deprivation is Linked to Depression

When it comes to sleep and mental health, the link goes far beyond irritability and creativity. Approximately 90 percent of patients with major depression experience sleep abnormalities. Normalizing sleep patterns can reduce the risk of depression relapse while continued abnormalities have been shown to increase risk of relapse. A similar link has been seen in patients with PTSD. It’s believed that this relationship between sleep and depression is bi-directional, meaning sleep deprivation can lead to depression and vice versa.

With these points in mind, it may be time to reevaluate your sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough shut-eye at night. Your health depends on it.