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A full night’s sleep is not a luxury — it’s a basic necessity for healthy hormone balance. Once you dip below seven hours a night, you are increasing your risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, and obesity.

Some researchers believe that slow-wave sleep — the deep, dreamless sleep that you ideally sink into about three or four times a night — may actually regulate your metabolism. Sleep researchers break down sleep into five stages. Stage 4 slow-wave sleep, which begins about an hour after we fall asleep, is when we release our greatest pulses of growth hormone, the hormone that prompts the body to burn stored fat. When we’re young, we spend about 20 percent of our time asleep in slow-wave stages 3 and 4. But as we get older, we may only spend about 10 or even 5 percent there.

Sadly, just two nights of bad sleep will cut your satiety hormone leptin by 20 percent and increase your hunger hormone ghrelin by 30 percent. That one-two punch makes you much more likely to snack on high-carb treats, which couldn’t come at a worse time for your insulin levels. In a recent study, University of Chicago researchers found that just three nights of poor sleep made the bodies of young, healthy test subjects 25 percent less sensitive to insulin. This level of insulin resistance is comparable to that brought on by carrying 20 to 30 extra pounds.

In order to block fat-storage hormones and allow the full release of fat-burning hormones, you need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night!**