Have you put on some extra pounds?
Your lack of sleep may be to blame.
Experts say there is a clear link between sleep deprivation and weight gain.
The reason has to do with hormones: Sleep-deprived bodies produce high levels of ghrelin, a hormone that tells the brain when it’s time to eat. At the same time, sleep-deprived bodies secrete less leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full and satisfied.
“If you sleep less, you will feel more hungry, and you'll go for the carb-rich food to give you a boost of energy," said Dr. Belen Esparis, medical director of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Sleep Disorders Center and Laboratory.
“Nobody wants a salad when they are tired," she added.
Sleeping fewer hours can also throw off your circadian rhythm, or the body's internal 24-hour clock. For example, people who sleep from midnight until 5 a.m. might be prone to have a light breakfast, but snack after dinner, Esparis said.
“The fact that they are eating after dinner has to do with their own internal clock being disrupted by lack of sleep," Esparis said.
That's not the only reason sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain.
Exhausted people are far less likely to be active, said Dr. Alberto Ramos, co-director of the UHealth Sleep Medicine Program.
“In the afternoon, you don’t feel like going to the gym, you just want to crash,” said Ramos, who is also an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
For people looking to lose or maintain their weight, doctors say sleep is as important as diet and exercise.
Said Ramos: “We, as sleep doctors, are making a push to make sleep the third leg of the table. To have a healthy lifestyle, you should have a good diet, a good exercise and good sleep."
There are other health benefits, too.
“Good sleep hygiene is really an important thing to not only make you feel refreshed, but to decrease your chance of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and possibly cancer," said Dr. Timothy Grant, medical director of the Baptist Sleep Center at Sunset.
Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can lead to insulin resistance and even sleepwalking, Grant said.
Experts say most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. The exact time varies from person to person.
“But very few people can get along with less sleep," said Grant. “Most of us try to push through it, and we end up with a sleep debt."
Even you can't squeeze seven hours of sleep into your schedule, doctors say you should make concessions to get as many hours as possible.
“TiVo that show and get the extra 30 minutes of sleep," said Grant. “It will be well worth it."