Most of us are aware of the possible consequences that having a poor diet and not getting enough sleep can have on our overall health, but we don’t always make the connection that there might be a correlation between the two. Can a poor diet affect our sleeping patterns, and does not getting enough sleep impact our dietary choices? In today’s article, we will explore the link between nutrition and sleep, following the latest findings in the scientific field. In addition to seeing what the latest findings are saying, we prepared a list of foods you should consume to get better sleep and those you should avoid.
At the end of our article, we’ll give you some recommendations on how to improve your sleep. And with that out of the way, let’s see how sleep affects nutrition.
How Sleep Affects Nutrition
Many studies have shown that even one night of insufficient sleep can increase our ghrelin levels – the hormone in our bodies that’s responsible for controlling our hunger levels. When this hormone is increased, we feel hungrier, even if we’ve already reached our daily caloric intake.
In addition to ghrelin, the hormone leptin (also known as the fullness hormone) is increased when we’re tired. This hormone makes us not feel satiated even after a balanced meal. You might have noticed this change yourself – when we sleep less, we eat more food and we don’t feel as full as we normally do.
Not only does getting insufficient sleep increase the abovementioned hormones, but it also makes us more likely to seek junk food. As unfair as it might seem, this can be explained by the fact that lack of sleep also has an effect on the hypothalamus and the brain reward pathway. Essentially, it increases our desire for food that’s high in calories and fat, seeing it as a reward in the process.
And if that wasn’t enough, sleep deprivation also leads to decision-making exhaustion, which can easily lead us to making the easier choice and ordering a high-fat meal instead of cooking something healthier from scratch.
Since a lack of sleep has such a detrimental effect on our hormone levels and the part of our brain that’s responsible for rewards and decision-making, it should come as no surprise that you might reach for more food when you’re feeling sleep-deprived.
What Kind of Food Should I Eat for Good Sleep?
We already saw that lack of sleep negatively impacts our nutrition, so let’s examine how what we eat can affect our sleep.
The recommended daily caloric intake and micronutrient and macronutrient breakdown differ from person to person. However, there are some foods that most could benefit from, which we will discuss below.
Generally speaking, consuming vegetables on a daily basis results in better sleep. This is because vegetables are full of nutrients and minerals which have a positive impact on our overall health, and this reflects on our overall sleeping patterns.
In addition to vegetables, incorporating fruits in your diet has shown to have amazing benefits. Fruit is rich in vitamins like A, C, and E, all of which could help improve sleep.
Consuming melatonin-rich food in the evening is another way to fall asleep quicker. Melatonin is the sleep hormone in our body that greatly contributes to a good night’s rest. It slowly starts to activate after sunset, preparing our bodies for sleep. Melatonin is found in some types of nuts, like almonds and walnuts, goji berries, tart cherries, and some types of oil, like olive oil.
In addition to this, having an evening snack that’s a good source of magnesium is also found to be helpful for improving our sleep. Magnesium is found in dark leafy greens, whole grains, bananas, and legumes.
What About Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates have a bad rep – they’re often associated with drowsiness after we consume them. However, this doesn’t apply to complex carbs which slowly release energy, such as whole meal grains. As long as your meal is balanced and minimally processed, it shouldn’t impact your sleeping pattern negatively.
On the other hand, consuming meals that are rich in simple carbs can potentially lower the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, thus lowering your sleep quality. It’s important to avoid simple carbs and carbs that come from junk food whenever possible, especially before you go to bed.
The Link Between Fibre Consumption and Sleep
We all know the importance of consuming enough fibre, but did you know that the amount of fibre you consume directly impacts your quality of sleep?
According to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, higher fibre intake is associated with spending more time in deep sleep, while not eating enough fibre leads to lighter, disrupted sleep.
This additional correlation of sleep and fibre intake corroborates the fact that what we eat directly impacts our quality of sleep. It’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough fibre day in and day out, which impacts not only your sleep but also your overall health. Some healthy sources of fibre include cereals, fruit, beans, wholemeal grains, avocado, berries, and broccoli.
We see that poor diet can lead to sleep problems, but does it have a direct impact on sleep disorders?
Does Diet Affect Sleep Disorders?
An unhealthy diet can negatively impact sleep disorders because they can lead to weight gain, which is associated with an increased risk of developing a sleep disorder. Some conditions, like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), are directly linked to being overweight. If you suspect that your unhealthy diet is the cause of your sleep disorder, we recommend speaking to your doctor.
Foods and Drinks to Avoid
Now that we know which foods are optimal for consumption when it comes to improving our sleeping patterns, let’s explore some types of food and drinks that have been shown to negatively affect sleep.
Multiple studies have proven that a large alcohol consumption can have a detrimental impact on our sleep. Not only does it reduce the overall deep sleep we’re getting per night, but it also makes us more prone to waking up in the middle of the night. More often than not, we’d also struggle to go back to sleep. People who consume large quantities of alcohol at night don’t get good quality sleep and wake up feeling groggy, without any energy.
You don’t have to avoid alcohol entirely in order to have a good quality sleep. Sticking to a glass of wine or beer with dinner isn’t likely to have any negative impact on your sleep, provided that some time has passed from dinner to the time you go to sleep.
Just like alcohol, consuming a lot of caffeine in the evening has been shown to disrupt our sleep. In fact, people who are very sensitive to caffeine are recommended to avoid it even in the late afternoon. This is because caffeine stays in our body for hours after we consume it, so it could easily keep you up at night.
If consuming a cup of coffee in the evening is a dear habit you don’t want to depart from, you can always switch it to decaf coffee. Remember, caffeine isn’t only found in coffee, it can also be found in chocolate, tea, and some other types of food. If you’re unsure if what you’re about to consume before or after dinner has caffeine, always check the ingredients list.
Overly Spicy Food
As much as we might love spicy food, it can impact some people’s digestion in a negative way. It’s a common cause of heartburn, which is definitely not a pleasant sensation to feel right before going to bed. Bad digestion and heartburn could easily keep you up at night, so if you’re someone who doesn’t digest spicy food well, it’s best to avoid it at night.
Overly Greasy Food
Just like spicy food, high-calorie, greasy food can also make it hard for us to fall asleep because it makes our digestion work a lot harder to process the fat and high-calorie count. If you feel peckish before bed, it’s better to have a balanced meal which has sources of protein, fat, and complex carbs.
Habits to Avoid
Avoiding certain foods in the evening can be easy, but letting go of some of our habits that can be destructive to our sleep is more challenging. Here are some habits you should avoid before bed that can contribute to a poor night’s sleep.
We’re all prone to being in a food coma after a big meal. If this happens occasionally, like while on a holiday or a special occasion, it’s not going to have a big impact on your sleeping patterns. However, if it happens more frequently than that, especially in the evenings, it might be time to reconsider this habit.
If you have a large meal in the middle of the day, it might lower your energy levels and result in a nap, which could cause havoc in your sleeping patterns. If you have a large meal in the evening, it could keep you up because your digestive system will be working overtime to process the food you’ve consumed. In addition, it could cause a lot of discomfort, so it’s best to stick to lighter meals in the evening.
Drinking a lot of Fluids
This one’s apparent, but we had to include it on our list. All of us have experienced the drudgery of getting out of bed at multiple points in the night because we drank too many fluids before bed. Getting up during the night to go to the bathroom is quite damaging to your sleep quality and it disrupts you sleep cycles, so it’s best to keep the fluids to a minimum before going to bed.
Tips for Getting Better Sleep
Since we’ve explored the connection between sleep and diet in great detail, it’s time to share our best tips for having a healthy sleeping schedule.
Create the Right Sleeping Environment
One of the key things to keep in mind if you’re trying to improve your sleeping schedule is that you should create an inviting sleeping environment that will inspire you to fall asleep faster. This includes choosing the right bedding that’s both comfortable and breathable, turning off any light or noise source in the bedroom, and finding the right temperature for your bedroom. It’s recommended that you keep your bedroom temperature at around 19 degrees Celsius.
Create a Routine
The most important aspect of having a healthy sleeping schedule is creating a routine around the time you go to sleep and wake up. Your body likes routine and predictability, and doing so will allow your body to naturally prepare you for sleep when your bedtime starts approaching. Of course, you should allow yourself to break your routine during the weekend and sleep in if you feel like your body needs to catch up on sleep.
Naps Aren’t Always a Good Idea
Let’s face it – we all love napping. There’s nothing like a short afternoon nap to energize us and give us a much-needed break from our work obligations. With that said, if your nap lasts longer than half an hour to an hour, you risk messing up your sleeping schedule, so it’s best to stick to power naps.
Take a Shower or Bath Before Bed
Relaxing before you go to bed is always a good idea. And what better way to do that than to get in a relaxing bath or take a long shower? Sorry to break it to all the morning showerers, but studies have shown that taking a relaxing bath or shower in the evening can improve your overall sleep quality. So, next time you toss and turn in bed, get up and get in the shower.
Is Poor Sleep Related to Poor Nutrition?
Yes, poor nutrition can have a negative impact on your sleeping patterns, and vice versa.
What Nutrients Affect Sleep?
There are several nutrients that have shown to improve our sleep. Complex carbohydrates, fibre, and foods rich in certain vitamins like A and E can significantly improve your quality of sleep.
Is There a Link Between Sleep Disorders and Nutrition?
Yes, having a poor nutrition can directly impact certain sleep disorders like snoring and sleep apnea.
We hope our article on the link between nutrition and sleep helped you understand the impact a poor diet has on our sleeping patterns and vice versa.
Not getting enough sleep affects our sleep in many different ways; for instance, it increases the hormone ghrelin – the hunger hormone that determines our hunger levels – and makes us more prone to overeating. On top of that, it also increases the hormone leptin, making us unable to feel satiated even after having a full meal.
The reverse is also true – what we eat directly impacts our sleep. Getting enough vegetables, consuming enough fibre, and eating food high in melatonin before bed is associated with better and deeper sleep. There are also some foods you should avoid before bed such as overly greasy or spicy food, coffee, and alcohol. In terms of habits, do your best to avoid consuming large meals at night, overeating, and drinking a lot of fluids.
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