SLEEP Yourself Slim; Struggling to Lose Those Pounds, despite Your Best Efforts? Weell According to a New Study, It Could Be as Simple as Getting a Better Night's Sleep. Here We Reveal Why a Good Sleep Equals a Great Body

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Byline: Sarah Richardson

Good news - it seems the real reason why many of us may be overweight has nothing to do with that crisp and chocolate habit!

Researchers from Birmingham Heartlands Hospital discovered that people who sleep for less than seven hours a night are more likely to be overweight.

"We have done a series of studies looking at weight and sleep," says Dr Shahrad Taheri, who led the study.

"Lack of sleep seems to stimulate the hormones that regulate appetite and leads to higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers appetite. We found people who sleep for significantly less than seven hours a night often end up being obese."

They also discovered that the quality of your sleep is just as important as how much you sleep - for example, sleeping lightly and not getting enough deep sleep is almost as bad as no sleep.

Dr Taheri thinks poor sleep habits can result in a weight gain of up to 2lb a week, regardless of diet.

So if you overhaul your sleeping habits, you could easily drop pounds.

There's been a rise in pricey health spas offering 'Learn to sleep better' weekends, but here's everything you need to know to get a good night'shut-eye - without breaking the bank...

Sort out your sleep environment

"One of the biggest reasons for a bad night's sleep is your pre-bed routine," says Dr John Shneerson, Director of Papworth Hospital's sleep centre in Cambridge (www.papworthpeople.com).

"Your mind and body need to wind down if you want to get a proper sleep, which means no TV, typing on your laptop or computer, or texting on your mobile for at least an hour before bed."

Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow does this and calls it her "electronic sundown." She says that at 10pm every night she turns off her compu-termobile and TV because, "each little bit of light can stop your melatonin levels from rising, which you need to induce sleep and to reach the deep restorative sleep your body requires."

And avoid exciting, pageturning books, which get the mind racing before bed and disrupt sleep. Dr Shneerson says vigorous exercise too late in the evening can also keep you awake. But gentle, mind-calming exercises such as Pilates or yoga can have the opposite effect.

"A gentle yoga class after work can really help you sleep," says personal trainer James Duigan, who counts Elle Macpherson among his celebrity clients.

"I tell clients to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep night because it helps keep their metabolisms ticking over nicely, plus it reduces their appetite."

What you should do before bed

Stop fretting about tomorrow's to- dlist for a start, says Dr Shneerson. He says worrying is one of the biggest culprits of bad sleep. Instead, keep a notepad by your bed and write down any chores that pop into your head, and any worries you may have.

Writing them down means they're less likely to whirl around in your head in the night. Also a warm (not too hot or it can be dehydrating) bath right before bed really helps sleep. Studies show a few drops of lavender oil will help you sleep deeply too (try Botanics Time To Rebalance Bath, Body & Massage Oil, Boots, pounds 7.30 for 100ml). Dr Shneerson also suggests making sure your bedroom is dark enough, so invest in blackout linings for bedroom curtains and make sure the room is not too hot or too cold (keep a window open in summer and use extra blankets in winter).

Avoid sleepdepriving foods

Dr Shneerson says what you eat and drink in the evening has a huge impact on how well you sleep. A heavy meal too close to bed is a no-no, as it will sit heavily in your stomach overnight and may affect sleep. …