By Michael Williams, RD

Miracle weight loss products are everywhere. These products, whether creams, pills, detox juices or belts that electrocute the fat from our stomach, claim to not only wipe away the weight but to make it easy. But of all these products, what could be easier than sleeping? Well, as silly as it sounds, there is a growing scientific understanding that sleep (or lack thereof) affects our weight loss efforts.

Can we really sleep ourselves skinny? Sort of.

Research shows that by missing too much sleep, we set ourselves for big weight gains. These “staying awake” weight gains occur from the many hormonal and metabolic changes that accompany even a modest sleep deprivation.

A major impact of sleep deprivation is the imbalance of appetite-stimulating hormones. Without enough sleep, our body produces an increased level of the stress hormone cortisol.

This increased cortisol has the dual effect of increasing our hunger for high fat and sugary foods while increasing the storage of belly fat. Though it’s not just cortisol — other hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, which work to stimulate and suppress appetite, are thrown way off kilter during sleep deprivation.

The more time we are awake, the more likely it is we will have extra late night snacks. A recent study from the University of Colorado found that sleep-deprived people ate more late snacks, which led to an increased calorie intake and weight gain. Likewise, a similar study by the University of Pennsylvania found that people getting only four hours of sleep consumed many more meals, snacks and calories, and eventually gained over 2 pounds in just a five-day period.

How much sleep do we need to notice benefits?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for adults. Comparatively, most studies on sleep and weight compare sleep deprivation to 8-10 hours of sleep nightly. Therefore, to positively affect weight loss, it is recommended that we get at least the minimum of 7-9 hours a night.

Personally, I’ve noticed that when my weight management patients get at least 7 hours sleep, they have improvements in their overall losses and report decreased levels of stress.