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Doesn’t it seem as if there’s always something conspiring against humans to deprive us of a good night’s sleep? Once we discovered that electricity was controllable, we invented the incandescent light bulb, the TV, the internet, email, and our beloved smartphones. Our modern conveniences clamor for our attention, compete with our downtime, and cut into our much-needed Zzzs.

Are you constantly on high alert and unable to unwind at night? Are you also struggling to lose weight or keep it off? Read on. You might be surprised to know that there’s a strong connection between your sleep-deprived state and your waistline.

“Insufficient sleep is a public health problem” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Most human adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, and school-aged children (aged 6 to 13) need 9-11 hours. Unfortunately, 30 percent of American adults log 6 or fewer hours, according to the CDC.

Interestingly enough, more than one-third of Americans are obese. Obesity experts believe that consistently getting enough sleep is as important to your health as regular exercise and a balanced diet. To illustrate the crucial role that quality sleep plays in battling obesity, let’s look at the results of some prominent studies.

1) Improved sleeping reduced fat accumulation in adults

A six-year-long study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found that when individuals who were sleeping less than 6 hours per night improved their sleep habits and logged 7-8 hours of sleep, they reduced their waistline by an average of 2 inches compared to those who did not change their sleeping behavior.

Why it’s important: Abdominal, or belly, fat is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes. As Mayo Clinic explains, belly fat is not just a layer of extra padding below your skin—it includes visceral fat, which surrounds your internal organs.

2) Multiple children’s studies show relationship between sleep and weight

Numerous studies have found that short sleep times are associated with childhood and adolescent obesity. A paper published in The Journal of Pediatrics showed that preschool-aged children who observed early bedtimes (8:00 p.m. or earlier) were half as likely to have adolescent obesity as preschoolers with late bedtimes (after 9:00 p.m.).

Why it’s important: Childhood obesity takes a tremendous toll on developing bodies and psyches. Obese youth are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Like adults, they often experience impaired glucose tolerance leading to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, as well as breathing problems, joint problems, and digestive system diseases.

3) Other reasons to prioritize sleep every night

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center discovered that even just one night of fewer than 7 hours of sleep impaired insulin sensitivity in dogs as much as six months on a high-fat diet. Additional studies on humans show sleep deprivation can:  

  • Make you feel hungrier the next day by altering the appetite- and metabolism-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin.
  • Make you more efficient at storing fat.
  • Cause strong cravings for carbohydrates, fats, and calorie-rich comfort foods that lead to weight gain.
  • Lower your cognitive ability to make healthy food choices and weaken your impulse control.