By Marlee Boyle
Sleep might be the missing ingredient in your diet
I’m often heard saying that waking up feeling refreshed everyday is one of the top 5 feelings we can experience, yet according to studies, a large percentage of working adults are not achieving enough sleep to wake up rested. So, it’s safe to say most working adults, age 18-64 are waking up not feeling refreshed, and starting their day out already tired. This doesn’t exactly put us on the trajectory for an easy day of making healthy choices so when it comes to making efforts to improve our health and well being, start with our sleep!
Sleep is as essential to our daily function as food and water, it provides the foundation for all our daily habits and decisions. Healthy sleep is important for cognitive functioning, mood, mental health, cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and metabolic health. In fact, in a study conducted in 2020, sleep quality was found to be the biggest behavioural factor determining our well-being and mental health risks. Despite all of this, sleep is often the first thing sacrificed in the face of a busy schedule or even for less important activities, like watching TV or scrolling social media. Like exercise and a balanced diet, sleep helps prevent a range of health issues, including heart disease and depression. Having healthy sleep habits in place as part of a healthy lifestyle will make all our other health-related goals easier to achieve, including, maintaining a healthy diet and weight.
Sleep and nutrition are well known for their fundamental roles in our health but the relationship between sleep and nutrition is symbiotic and more complex than most of us may realize. Have you ever tried to choose the healthy piece of fruit over a buttery croissant or a chocolate pastry after a night of too little sleep? Have you found yourself feeling like a bottomless pit the next day after a sleepless night? In my family, we joke that they know when I’ve stayed up past my bedtime because I can be found in the glow of the refrigerator door light, indulging in some nighttime snacking.
There’s more to these behaviours than just lack of sheer willpower to maintain a healthy diet, being sleep deprived disrupts hormones that affect our appetite, compromises decision making, and causes us to crave high-calorie foods. Insufficient sleep has been associated in multiple studies with an elevated risk of obesity and diabetes. Lack of sleep has also been connected to greater waist circumference, which is considered to be a worrisome indicator of numerous cardiovascular problems.
Sleep deprivation affects the body’s release of ghrelin and leptin, two hormones that control our appetite and fullness. Leptin tells us we are full and to stop eating, and ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone because it stimulates appetite. After a poor night of sleep or just a short sleep, our leptin decreases and ghrelin increases, causing us to feel hungry more, and full less. Coupled with our compromised ability to make good decisions when tired, we are more likely to choose unhealthy foods, and to overeat. Over a period of time this pattern leads to weight gain, increasing the risk for obesity.
Now, even in the unlikely event that we can will our tired-self through a balanced breakfast and fatigue doesn’t stop us from completing a daily workout routine, our basal metabolic rate will burn lower due to the sleep loss and there’s studies that show when we are sleep deprived, our bodies will prioritize burning lean muscle mass over fat, essentially sabotaging our efforts at the gym when running on less than 6 hours of rest.
So, start with sleep! When we improve our sleep, we can improve our diet, and if we eat a healthier diet, we can sleep better too. You can start with these 10 tips for better sleep:
Keep a regular bedtime and wake time
Create a bedroom environment that is cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable
View sunlight upon waking as often as possible
Get outside without sunglasses on and exercise daily
Avoid screens at least 1 hour before bedtime
Avoid alcohol before bed
Avoid caffeine after morning time
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Avoid eating large meals at least 3 hours before bedtime
Seek professional help if your sleep problems persist past a few weeks
How nutrition can affect sleep:
Growing evidence indicates that sufficient nutrient consumption is important for maintaining healthy sleep. One large study found a lack of key nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K to be associated with sleep problems. While this research does not prove cause-and-effect, it supports the likelihood that diet affects hormonal pathways involved in sleep and eating a balanced healthy diet, like a Mediterranean diet, can support the process of sleep.
Eating our way to a better night's sleep:
If you need a snack before bedtime, eat complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat toast or a bowl of oatmeal before bed. These foods will trigger the release of the sleepy hormone serotonin, and they don’t take long to digest.
Avoid spicy foods. Do the same with tomato sauce and other acidic foods if they give you heartburn or indigestion.
Foods that MIGHT help you catch a few more winks:
Turkey-Turkey has a few properties that explain why some people become tired after eating it or think it encourages sleepiness. Most notably, it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is sleep-promoting but it’s questionable how effective turkey is for improving sleep.
Kiwis-A study showed that adults who consumed 2 kiwifruits one hour before bedtime fell asleep more quickly than when they didnt eat anything before bedtime. More scientific evidence is needed to determine the effects that kiwis may have on sleep quality but in my opinion, it certainly worth a try if you enjoy eating kiwis.
Tart Cherry Juice- The sleep-promoting benefits of drinking tart cherry juice is due to its naturally occurring melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain as a response to darkness that helps regulate the timing of our circadian rhythms. If you enjoy tart cherry juice, why not give this a try?
Chamomile Tea-Chamomile tea contains antioxidants that may promote sleepiness, and drinking it has been shown to improve overall sleep quality in a study in 2011 on 34 adults. As long as the tea is caffeine-free and not just decaf, this can’t hurt!
While I don’t think consuming any of these foods will cure insomnia or fix years of poor sleeping habits, the minimal downsides of trying any of them makes it worth it. Seek help if you struggle with feeling rested and give yourself a strong foundation for a healthy lifestyle.