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Exercise and diet weren't the only pieces of the weight loss puzzle after all. Sleep deprivation, research now confirms, increases your risk of obesity. Learn why and what you can do about it.

Have you been gaining weight, or struggling with losing weight, despite efforts to eat balanced and healthy meals and to exercise more? Anyone who has ever found losing weight a challenge will say that there's more to it than popular opinion has us believe, and they would, as it turns out, be right. Sleep is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to weight gain and weight loss.

How does your sleep-wake cycle affect your weight, and how can you turn it around to your advantage?

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Sleep is as vital a need as water, food, and oxygen — without it, you can quite literally die. Chronic sleep deprivation causes issues far beyond that crankiness we all occasionally experience after a bad night's sleep, increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, colds and the flu, and accidents. And that's just for starters!

Despite that fact that most people have both heard that a lack of sleep is bad for their health and experienced the effects of sleep deprivation first-hand, the National Sleep Foundation still reports that 45 percent of Americans say that they're either not getting enough sleep, or that they're not getting "good-enough" sleep.

Are you one of them? You have every reason to make getting more and better sleep a top priority.

Sleep needs vary slightly from one individual to another, but National Sleep Foundation recommends that all adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, depending on what allows them to function optimally.

Though not taking care of your sleep health can indirectly impact your very life span, that's unlikely to motivate you to change your sleep patterns now. (That's thanks, of course, to the same principle that causes some to light up another cigarette as they worry about terrorist attacks, while not giving the idea of dying from smoking another thought. Since it's not going to happen right now, you don't have to think about it — right?) Something that may, however, make you want to change your habits pronto is the fact that your lack of sleep could be making you fat.

Weight Gain? Try The "ZZZZZ Diet"

University of Warwick researchers found that sleep deprivation doubles obesity risk. University of Michigan and University of Texas studies both separately revealed a compelling link between lack of sleep and overweight in children and adolescents. The less sleep a person gets, all these studies show, the higher their risk of gaining unhealthy amounts of weight.

What's more, a team from the University of Chicago actually discovered that not getting enough shut-eye leads to increased hunger, and specifically to a tendency to gorge on nutrient-empty but calorie-rich processed carbs. 

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