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The Skinny on Sleep: 5 Ways Getting Enough Zzzz's Maintains Healthy Weight

Getting a good night's sleep may help you maintain a healthy weight.
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You know you've always wanted to lose weight in your sleep, and this wish may be more than just a pipe dream. Getting your fair share of Z's just might help keep you lean while staying up all night can actually make you gain weight (getting a good night's sleep helps support your immune system too). I admit, I'm guilty of my fair share of sleepless nights, but after learning about the latest research you bet I'll be hitting the hay earlier tonight. Seven to eight hours a night is ideal, and fewer than six hour is asking for trouble. Here's why beauty rest is so important in keeping that girlish figure:

1. Energy - Sleep gives you energy to get through your day. If you don't get that energy from rest, your body tries to find it elsewhere. And the first fuel source it looks for is—you guessed it—food. And not just any food, either. You're far more likely to turn to sugary and fatty fare, which provides fast energy and plenty of it. And I'm sure I don't need to remind you that sugar and fat are bad news for your waistline. So, go to bed already!

2. The Leptin Connection - The sleep/eating thing isn't just hearsay. Lack of sleep lowers levels of a hormone called leptin in your body, according to research by Eve van Cauter, PhD, of the University of Chicago. Leptin is responsible for telling your brain that you're full so that you stop eating, and without it you’d be insatiable. Leptin levels go up while you sleep, and you have less of the stuff in your body when you're short on rest. Low leptin levels are associated with obesity, so lack of rest might actually make you fat.

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3. The Ghrelin Gremlin - As if reduced leptin wasn't bad enough, loss of sleep goes even further to encourage the munchies by elevating levels of the hormone ghrelin. Produced by your gastrointestinal tract, Ghrelin tells your brain to eat, eat, eat. With adequate sleep, your body produces less ghrelin and you won't want to pig out as much during the day. 

4. Physical Activity - Who feels like hitting the gym after just a few hours of shuteye? Not me—exercise takes a day off when I'm exhausted, and I'm sure I’m not alone in this. Sleep recharges and invigorates your body to help you work out longer and harder, blasting away more calories in a day than lounging around in a groggy stupor. Even if you don't make it to the gym, you're bound to be more physically active after an energizing night's rest, upping your calorie burn.

5. Part of the Diet Package - A commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal earlier this year noted that along with diet and exercise, sleep should be part of the prescription for any weight loss plan. Authors Drs. Jean-Phillippe Chaput and Angelo Tremblay both studied people trying to lose weight, and found that they could predict success based on total sleep time as well as quality of sleep. So all that tedious calorie counting may be for naught if you don't spend enough time snoozing. 

Image: jakuza

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