Sleeping might actually be better for you than going to the gym

Well, this might just be the best news I've heard in a long time.

If you're trying to lose weight, build muscle or generally just be healthier, it turns out that you're more likely to see results if you work less hard at the gym and opt for a sleep-in every now and again instead. Yep, experts say that sleep might actually be better for you than working out.

The thing is that sleep is as important for your health, and not many people realise that this can really impact their weight too. This means that if you're exercising to the detriment of your sleeping hours – by forcing yourself to wake up at ridiculous hours to work out every morning, or working out late at night and making it harder to fall asleep – you would actually be better off not exercising instead.

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Dr. Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical director of The Sleep School, says that people who don't get enough Zzz's each night are more likely to have a higher percentage of body fat.

"Sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to higher percent body fat. Research suggests that people who average 6 hours per night are 27% more likely to be overweight," he says. "Those who average 5 hours per night are 73% more likely to be overweight."

And you can thank two little hormones that go by Ghrelin and Leptin for that.

"Ghrelin regulates our appetite and so how hungry we feel, whereas Leptin regulates the feeling of fullness, the cue to stop eating," explains Dr Meadows. "Research demonstrates that after a poor night of sleep Ghrelin levels increase and Leptin levels decrease, meaning we feeling more hungry and yet less full, hence why we tend to eat more."

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It explains why after a bad or a short night's sleep we feel ravenous in the morning – 45 per cent more ravenous than usual, to be precise. And according to research – as well as anecdotal evidence of our own "hangry" moments – we make bad decisions and are more likely to reach for naughtier food options rather than something that's more wholesome and nutritious.

"Research suggests that poor sleep causes us to choose higher calorific food. Scientists from Uppsala University in Sweden demonstrated that sleep deprived individuals select foods that are on average 9% higher in calories than when in a rested state," says Dr Meadows. And that's because we're probably acting more on impulse and feeling a bit lax with our willpower in moments like these.

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Nutritionist Lily Soutter chimed in on the discussion and agreed with Dr. Meadows, saying sleep is just as important for your health and fitness as working out is.

"Scientists have analysed levels of the stress hormone cortisol in sleep-deprived subjects. They found elevated levels of cortisol after a sleepless night, which was especially high between the hours of 4-9pm. High cortisol can signal for fat to be store around the middle," she says.

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And not only can a lack of sleep increase that pesky belly fat, it's also going to affect your workout. If you're at the gym feeling really lethargic, you're more likely to injure yourself, quit early and not push yourself to make the workout count. You also need a good night's sleep to rebuild muscle tissue and regenerate cells. "Sleep deprivation is the enemy of building that all-important fat burning muscle mass," Soutter says.

Sleep's very important for your health, got it? Good. Now hop into your pyjamas and off you go.