Part of any weight loss program will include dietary changes and physical activity. But what if you’re doing everything you should be doing, and yet you aren’t losing weight? The answer to your problem might surprise you: You might not be getting enough sleep!

We don’t often take it seriously, but sleep is an important function in our bodies. During sleep, your body rebuilds muscles that have been stressed by exercise. Sleep also helps us to regulate production of important hormones like the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol performs several functions in the body, including triggering your appetite and increasing fat storage in cells.

Getting adequate amounts of sleep ensures that your body will produce cortisol at normal levels. But when you become sleep deprived, your body increases its production of cortisol. This produces a damaging double whammy of increased appetite combined with increased fat storage. In other words, you crave fattening foods and metabolize them more slowly than usual.

Studies have actually demonstrated that people who suffer chronic sleep deprivation have higher rates of obesity, along with a higher incidence of diabetes, hypertension, and memory loss.

The bottom line is this: When putting together a weigh loss program, remember to include adequate sleep in your schedule. Don’t over-schedule so much exercise that you don’t have enough time for sleep. And remember not to work out right before bedtime, because the adrenaline surge is likely to keep you awake.

If you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep, you may need to make other changes in your routine or environment. Use room darkening shades, a white noise machine, earplugs, or anything else that helps you to get a better night of sleep. If your problem seems severe, you may need to see a sleep specialist.