We all know poor sleep can be a problem. Beyond turning you into a total grouch, too many sleepless nights can leave you feeling drained, foggy, and sick. On the other side of the pillow, getting plenty of quality sleep helps you combat disease, restore tired muscles, reduce stress, and perform at your best.

If that wasn’t enough, studies are now revealing another reason to take your sleep seriously: the way it works on your weight. Although the connection isn’t totally clear, evidence suggests that quality sleep can be just as important for weight management as diet and exercise. But can you really sleep your way to a smaller size? Here’s what the science says.

The Link Between Sleep and Weight

The connection between sleep and body weight is a complex one with many different factors. Here are some of the ways sleep can be linked to your waistline:

Increased Appetite. Sleep has a direct impact on the hormones that regulate hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep, these hormones are thrown out of whack. Your body produces more Ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, and decreases the level of Leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. An increased appetite can lead to binge eating and tougher portion control.

Less Self-Control. Poor sleep affects your decision-making process, making it harder to make healthy choices. High-carb and calorie-dense foods sound great when you’re hungry, and resisting temptation is tougher when you’re tired. Lack of sleep also stimulates the reward center of your brain, making those sugary treats taste even sweeter.

Burn Fewer Calories. Proper sleep is vital for a strong metabolism. Studies show that lack of sleep can lower your resting metabolic rate – the number of calories your body burns at rest – which directly hinders weight loss.

Insulin Sensitivity. Lack of sleep can reduce your body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose metabolism. Reduced insulin sensitivity causes the body to store more fat, even if you aren’t eating more calories. It can also lead to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.

Less Energy. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to have the energy to exercise or even stay active throughout the day. Sleep is also essential for muscle recovery and growth, especially if you’re engaging in regular exercise as part of a weight loss plan. Lack of sleep can hinder these processes and counteract those days you crush it in the gym.

Increased Stress. Sleep deprivation causes increased levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. High levels of cortisol can cause your body to store more fat, especially in problem areas like the belly, face, and neck.

While it may feel like a snore, spending more time snoozing may help you shed those stubborn pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Although sleep isn’t one-size-fits-all, experts recommend that adults aged 18-60 sleep at least 7 hours each night. Combined with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, getting plenty of sleep could be the key to getting the body – and the health – of your dreams!