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Snooze Your Way to Weight Loss

I don't know too many people (myself included) who wouldn't mind dropping a few pounds...maybe more that just a few pounds. The mantra for that goal has long been: diet and exercise. Books and magazines are filled with various nutritional approaches to a new slimmer you. The food industry has jumped aboard and gonelow-this and lite-that. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reports that gym memberships in 2010 reached an all-time high of 50.2 million. Yet, as a culture, our obesity rate continues to climb. Could there be a missing piece to this puzzle? It seems like the solution may have been located...

The fascinating thing about the solution, is that it's tied in with a piece of equipment we all own (no, it's not the exercise bike we use as a clothes rack), it's our bed. A recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has found a direct correlation between the amount of sleep we get, and our body mass index. This seems counter-intuitive. We normally equate weight loss with vigorous, heart-pounding activity–not peaceful slumber. Yet the connections seems clear. Consider this: In 1960, Americans averaged 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night, and our obesity rate was around 12 percent. Today we're averaging 6 1/2 to seven hours, and our obesity rate has climbed to around 30 percent. It appears that a number of mechanisms are thrown off when we don't get enough sleep. The hormone that tells us we're hungry (ghrelin) increases, while the hormone that tells us we've had enough (leptin) decreases. In other words, when we don't get enough sleep we feel hungry, even if we've eaten enough. The stress hormone cortisol also surges when we're sleep-deprived. When that happens, we crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Even in the case of genetics, it appears that getting enough sleep works in favor of weight loss. Sleeping more than nine hours a night seems to suppress obesity related genes.

Besides weight gain, lack of sleep also sets us up for daytime fatigue, impaired concentration, and an increased risk for a number of health disorders like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression. Of course getting the right amount of sleep can be a challenge, and those of us with sleep disorders have an extra obstacle to deal with. But as we learn more about its benefits, we should feel more motivated than ever to do whatever it takes to get the proper amount of rest.Who knew that getting a good night's sleep could be such a great workout?

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