You may be familiar with the age-old debate: does a balanced diet allow me to sleep better, or is it sufficient sleep that motivates me to eat a healthy, balanced diet? Ok, so it’s not really an age-old debate, but it should be because the two are very much related and dependent on each other. The answer to both questions above is a resounding “YES!” The fact of the matter is that a reciprocal relationship exists between sleep and diet.
Let us explain:
Sleep is vital for our body–our biological and metabolic processes–as well as our mind to function efficiently and effectively. When we are sleep deprived, we suffer memory problems, immune system issues, and we experience fatigue and inflammation in the body. Furthermore, our levels of the important mood and energy regulating hormones norephinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which are secreted during sleep, are significantly impacted. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of energy and hormones, our brain triggers cravings for specific foods, and generally, those foods are high in fat and sugar. Additionally, sleep deprivation increases hunger signals to our brain and reduces our ability to feel satiated.
In complementary fashion, what you eat greatly impacts your ability to fall and stay asleep. Our diet provides us with nutrients necessary for the production of sleep-inducing hormones. Melatonin, a powerful hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles, is a derivative of tryptophan, an amino acid found in eggs, bananas, dairy, nuts, and certain meats. Tryptophan breaks down into serotonin and, eventually, into melatonin.
So the bottom line is this:
By eating the a healthy, balanced diet, you’re providing your body with the nutrients it needs to sleep well, and by sleeping well, you avoid the energy crash-and-burn that leads to eating unhealthy foods.
Here are a few diet-related tips that will help you get quality sleep at night:
Avoid high fat, heavy foods in the evening
High fat, heavy foods put your digestive system into overdrive as it works to break down and store the high energy food you’ve consumed. Bedtime should be a time in which your normal metabolic processes are slowing down to a snail’s pace in order to recover from the day’s work. Eating foods that require extra effort to digest interrupts this recovery process and could potentially keep you awake with gas pains and general abdominal discomfort in the middle of the night.
Avoid spicy food in the evening
Spicy food is a common cause of heartburn that can make laying comfortably in a horizontal position next to impossible. The pain of the acid and inability to lay down can greatly inhibit your ability to fall asleep. Even if you aren’t prone to heartburn, spicy food has been shown to increase the overall core temperature of the body, which can make it difficult to get a good night’s rest.
Avoid alcohol prior to bed
There is a catch-22 relationship between sleep and alcohol. While, on the one hand, it may aide in relaxation and allow you to fall asleep quicker and easier, studies have shown that alcohol causes you to sleep less deeply and awake more frequently. You may experience night sweats, headaches, or nightmares when consuming alcohol too close to bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine
Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which means it is their job to stimulate or inhibit sleep. Consuming either substance too close to bedtime may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Also, be careful about hidden caffeine sources, such as in chocolate, protein bars, decaf coffee, and even some medications.
Limit fluid intake prior to bedtime
A major contributor to nighttime wakings is the need to urinate frequently. Try to limit the amount of all fluids you drink during the 2-3 hours prior to bedtime. This will allow your body to process and excrete as much fluid as possible before you lay down for the evening.