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Almost 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep loss, which translates for adults as getting less than 7 hours each night. New research suggests that not enough sleep leads to weight gain and even obesity. In one study, sleep-deprived folks appeared to burn the same number of calories as people who were well-rested, but they consumed about 300 more calories each day, which can add up to 30 extra pounds a year.

Dr. Michael Breus, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, supports the theory of sleep loss being the missing link in understanding America’s obesity epidemic. Lack of sleep slows your metabolism and raises your level of cortisol, the stress hormone that increases food cravings for both high-fat and high-carb items such as packaged snack foods. You end up craving fatty and starchy edibles because they release serotonin, the feel-good hormone, which you seek out to help your system calm down. Plus, more cortisol is tied to insulin resistance, a risk factor for both diabetes and obesity.

People who lack sleep also produce more of the hormone ghrelin, which increases hunger, and less of the hormone leptin, which helps put the brakes on overeating. Lastly, those who are not getting at least 7 hours of shuteye every night are losing precious REM sleep, that deep, restful stage where you burn the most calories.

In sum, lack of sleep can undermine even the most dedicated dieter. But here’s the good news: Increasing your sleep by just 1 hour a night—from 7 to 8 hours—can actually help you lose up to 14 pounds a year. All you have to do is follow this easy 4-step plan.

Step 1: Calculate Your Body’s Best Bedtime
To figure out your body’s best bedtime, follow these 3 easy steps:
  1. Determine your typical wake time.
  2. Count back 7.5 hours.
  3. Set your alarm clock to remind you to go to bed at that time.
The average person should get five full sleep cycles (90 minutes each), which adds up to 7.5 hours a night. If you typically wake up at 6 a.m., calculate back 7.5 hours and go to bed by 10:30 p.m. Setting your alarm clock for 10:30 p.m. then serves as a reminder for you to turn off the lights and turn in for the night.

Step 2: Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium are two of the best natural sleep aids available. Both of these essential minerals help maintain nervous system health and actually reduce anxiety and promote calm. A deficiency in magnesium has been shown to cause insomnia and restless leg syndrome. If you’re having trouble sleeping and aren’t already using these supplements, give them a try. Take 600mg calcium and 400 mg magnesium daily.

Next: How to tame your tummy before you go to sleep

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