Your sleep can affect how you walk, a new study says

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(CNN)If you're sleep deprived -- and who isn't these days? -- you're probably familiar with the impact on your body and psyche. You're plagued by sleepiness and yawning, you may suffer headaches, and you can easily feel anxious, irritable or depressed.

You can now add an unsteady walk to that list. A new study sheds light on the association of a lack of shut-eye and your gait -- thus potentially affecting your ability to walk purposely, avoid obstacles and keep your balance.
    "The results show that gait is not an automatic process, and that it can be affected by sleep deprivation," said study author Hermano Krebs, an adjunct professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a statement.
      "Ideally, everyone should sleep eight hours a night," said Krebs, who is also a principal research scientist in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's department of mechanical engineering. "But if we can't, then we should compensate as much and as regularly as possible."

      Gait is not so automatic

      Scientists used to think that walking was a fully automated process -- we pointed ourselves in the direction we wanted to go and our body automatically took over with little cognitive assistance.
        Research has now shown that's not the case. Our brain reacts to visual or auditory cues in our path, adjusting our gait to slow or speed up as needed. In the case of music, for example, we may adjust our stride to keep the beat without realizing it.
        "The concept of gait being only an automatic process is not a complete story," Krebs said. "There's a lot of influence coming from the brain."
        For optimal brain power, adults need to sleep at least seven hours a night, while school-age kids need nine to 12 hours and teens need eight to 10 hours each night, according to the US Centers on Disease Control and Prevention.
        The new study, published in Scientific Reports, focused on chronically sleep-starved college students at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The students wore sleep trackers for 14 days to record their sleep and waking periods; on average, the students slept about six hours a night.
        Half of the group then pulled an all-nighter before taking a treadmill test, in which they were asked to keep step with the beat of a metronome.
        "They had to synchronize their heel strike to the beat, and we found the errors were larger in people with acute sleep deprivation," said lead author Arturo Forner-Cordero, an associate professor in the department of mechatronics at the University of São Paulo.
        "They were off the rhythm, they missed beeps, and were performing in general, worse," Forner-Cordero said in a statement.

        Sleep compensation as safety measure

        Oddly, however, students who had attempted to reduce their sleep deficit by sleeping in on weekends performed a bit better on the task, Forner-Cordero and Krebs found.
        A lack of sleep can affect your ability to walk, a new study found.