How a lack of sleep can hurt your brain and body

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Forty million Americans struggle with insomnia each year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It's the most common sleep disorder in the United States.

The body needs sleep. A lack of it can lead to short-term symptoms like irritability and cognitive decline, or to long-term effects on your heart and weight. Research shows that shutting our brains down for seven to nine hours each night works as a sort of wash cycle: It gives us a chance to clear unnecessary things out, leaving room for clearer thinking the next day.

Two doctors joined MPR News host Angela Davis to explain how the wash cycle works and why it sometimes goes wrong. Dr. Brent Nelson is an interventional psychiatrist and the chief medical information officer for the Center for Neurotherapeutics in the Twin Cities. Dr. Michael Howell is a physician with Fairview who specializes in the treatment of sleep disorders.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.