Last week during one of my sessions, I asked one of my patients how much sleep she gets on an average night. Judging by her drawn face, I knew it couldn’t be much. She looked at me and laughed: “I’m lucky if I get five or six hours a night.”

This situation is typical. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. Trust me, I understand — there’s so much to do and only 24 hours to do it in! But we need to start putting sleep at the top of our to-do lists. Why? Being tired can lead to being overweight.

In the mid-afternoon, it’s easy to confuse exhaustion with hunger, so we might eat just because we’re tired. And the foods we seek then are often high in fat and carbohydrates. The problem is part mental, of course, but also physiological. Sleep deprivation can have neuro-hormonal effects. Studies show it leads to elevated levels of serum ghrelin, which is our appetite-stimulating hormone, and lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells our brains when we’re full. As a result, we take in more calories and thus gain weight. Not to mention, fatigue can also make us sedentary.

Another reason to ensure you're getting enough zz’s? A study out of the University of Chicago found that for every one hour you cut your sleep, your risk for high blood pressure increases by 37 percent!

The bottom line: As multiple studies show, there is a relationship between sleep and health, including weight. So as hard as it is to get seven to nine hours a night, we really should. Start considering sleep part of a healthy lifestyle!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.