Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

SleepWhen it comes to overall health and well-being, most of us know how important exercise and proper nutrition are. Many of us take steps to ensure a healthy lifestyle by increasing the amount of physical activity in our lives, and making smarter choices when it comes to foods we eat and the portion sizes we select. Yet in a fast-paced world where stress levels run high and there seems like there just simply aren’t enough hours in the day, we often deprive ourselves of one of our most basic necessities- sleep. And the reality is, sleep plays a critical role not only in ensuring optimal health, but it is also a key factor when it comes to weight loss.

What the research has shown

Research has shown that lack of sleep may be a potential contributor to weight gain and the growing obesity epidemic, as it causes disruptions to a number of hormonal and metabolic processes. A research study in 2004 conducted at the University of Chicago found that partial sleep deprivation can lead to increased appetite, as the circulating levels of hormones that regulate hunger are altered by decrease in sleep. This study specifically found that hormones leptin (which signals the brain when we’ve eaten enough) and ghrelin (which triggers feelings of hunger) increased 18% and 28% respectively when subjects slept for only a mere 4 hours a night for two consecutive nights.

While the University of Chicago study specifically looked at the effects lack of sleep have on young men, another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology,  confirmed a similar link between lack of sleep and weight gain, specifically in women. This study found that women with sleep times of less than 7 hours were at an increased risk for weight gain and obesity.  

How much do I need?

Most researchers agree that 7-8 hours of sleep per night is optimal for most individuals. Individuals with insufficient or irregular sleep (less than 6-7 hours per night) have been shown to be at an increased risk for developing diseases such as breast cancer, heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes, according to several reports from a Harvard-run Nurses’ Health Study.

Want to know how you can get the adequate amount of quality sleep that your body needs? Check out these helpful tips.

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