Most people do not think about their sleep habits when evaluating their health. Adequate sleep is critical when trying to lose weight, maintaining your weight and improving your overall health. Recent evidence suggests that your sleeping habits influence both your ability to lose weight and your tendency to eat more. People trying to lose weight were more likely to lose ten pounds when they slept between six and eight hours a night. People ate an average of nearly 300 calories more when they were sleep-deprived compared to when they were well rested. The calories overwhelmingly came from junk foods like ice cream and fast food. Other research found that among adults younger than 40, those who typically slept for five hours or less each night had a greater accumulation of belly fat. Another study found dieters who slept for 8.5 hours lost 55 percent more body fat than dieters who only got 5.5 hours of sleep. These studies only scratch the surface of the research linking your sleeping habits with your body weight. What is the connection? It is likely the effect of altered metabolism, because when you’re sleep deprived, leptin (the hormone that signals you are full) falls, while ghrelin (the hormone which signals you are hungry) rises. In one study, researchers found that people who slept only four hours a night for two nights experienced an 18 percent reduction in leptin and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin This combination leads to an increase in appetite. As mentioned above, people ate 300 extra calories when they were sleep-deprived. Furthermore, sleep-deprived people tend to eat more sweet and starchy foods, as opposed to vegetables and proteins. Sleep deprived people tend to crave sugary treats such as ice cream and candy. These sugar cravings may stem from the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose (sugar); therefore, when lack of sleep occurs, your brain starts searching for carbohydrates to keep going. Increased intake of simple carbs (highly processed foods) leads to increased insulin levels and weight gain. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, and consistently give in to these sugar cravings, you will virtually guarantee weight gain. Other consequences of too little sleep include: high blood sugar levels/insulin resistance, an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, depression, accelerated aging, and an increased risk of cancer. How do you know if you are getting enough sleep? If you feel well-rested and are able to wake up in the morning with no problem, you’re probably doing just fine in the sleep department. But if you’re fatigued, nodding off or yawning throughout the day, and just want to go back to bed when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, your sleep schedule may need some adjusting. Adults tend to need between six and eight hours of sleep every night. However, there are plenty of exceptions. Some people feel rested on as little as five hours a night, while others need as much as nine or ten in order to feel their best. The amount of sleep you need can also drastically change depending on circumstances. For example, most people need more sleep when feeling ill, or during emotionally stressful times. Pregnant women also typically need more sleep than usual during the first trimester. Listen to your body and respond accordingly. And don’t think you’re going to meet all of your sleep needs by sleeping in for one morning on the weekend. Chronic lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. You cannot skimp on sleep during the weekdays, thinking you’ll “catch up” over the weekend. What’s needed is consistency, and when it comes to sleep, routine is the word. Good sleep habits are critical to your long-term health. Make sure you get a good nights sleep to improve your weight and overall health.