You've probably realized how much better you feel after a good night's sleep, but did you know that chronic sleep deprivation could also be interfering with your weight loss?

Most adults need 8-9 hours of sleep to function their best, so if you routinely get less than 7, you've probably been accumulating sleep debt. This is worrisome because studies have found that the more sleep-deprived someone is, the more likely they are to gain weight and to be obese.

Why might this be? First of all, sleep deprivation has been found to be associated with higher levels of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin and lower levels of the "satiety hormone" leptin.

This makes some intuitive evolutionary sense. If our ancestors were deprived of sleep, its probably because they were in a dangerous environment where food was scarce, so it made sense that tiredness spurs you to eat all you could get your hands on.

However, in today's world, raiding your candy drawer when you're low on Z's is probably going to lead to some extra pounds. Plus, quite simply, the more hours you're up, the more hours you have to snack!

If that weren't bad enough, sleep deprivation also wreaks havoc on your metabolism. Even otherwise healthy and normal-weight people who regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep have been shown to have abnormally high glucose and insulin levels, a risk factor for diabetes. One study even found that these effects appeared in participants after they were sleep-deprived for as few as 4 days in a row.

Sleep deprivation also increases your levels of stress hormone cortisol, which signals to your body that it should hold on to fat. Plus, growth hormone is predominantly secreted during sleep. Since growth hormone is critical for building and repairing muscles, sleep deprivation is associated with muscle loss, which will also lower your metabolic rate.

A sleep-deprived person is also far less likely to have the energy to exercise. Together, these effects may explain why even dieters who ate the same amount of calories as a control group in one recent study lost less weight when they were also forced to undergo sleep deprivation.

Finally, sleep deprivation causes deficits in the parts of your brain usually responsible for decision-making and impulse control. Your brain's reward centers, on the other hand, become overactive, causing you to crave more food, especially high-carbohydrate and high-fat food that might give you a quick burst of energy. No matter how determined you are, this perfect storm makes cheating on your diet almost inevitable.

Being overweight can also increase your odds of sleep-disrupting conditions like arthritis and sleep apnea, creating a vicious cycle that makes weight loss more and more difficult over time.

However, it's not all bad news! For a better chance of a good night's rest, you can:

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day
  2. Only use your bedroom for sleeping
  3. End your day with a relaxing activity, like reading or taking a warm bath
  4. Not eat or drink too close to bedtime
  5. Get plenty of sunlight during the day, and turn off the lights and get away from your screens when it's time to start winding down
  6. Avoid naps, especially later in the day
  7. Cut back on caffeine, especially in the afternoons and evenings
  8. Take a healthy supplement like melatonin or Valerian root
  9. Get more exercise (but not too close to bedtime!)
  10. Limit your alcohol intake

If you follow these few common-sense tips, you should be able to get your sleep habits back on track. But if you're doing everything right and still having trouble getting to dreamland, it may be worth talking to your doctor.

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