Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
How do we know that the quality of your sleep affects your diet? Studies show that inadequate amounts of sleep can increase your appetite, especially for foods higher in carbohydrates. Without enough rest, our hormones are out of whack. Ghrelin, the hormone that is responsible for hunger, is produced at higher rates, while Leptin, the hormone that controls satiety, is produced at lower levels according to Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States Of America. This imbalance is what causes us to reach for that cream cheese bagel at lunch instead of the salad.
So, if the quality of your sleep affects your diet, does the quality of your diet affect your sleep?
In short, yes. What we eat during the day not only gives us energy, but can actually affect our sleep. The food we eat throughout the day affects our hormonal balance and can actually help us sleep better or worse. There are certain foods and eating habits that can stimulate a calming response from your nervous system and certain foods that can stimulate it.
Let's start with the obvious, caffeine. Most likely, the reason you do not wake up feeling well rested, even if you got those 8 hours of sleep, is because the quality of your sleep was poor. Caffeine can interfere with our sleep cycle and prevents us from falling into a deep sleep. Deep sleep is when your body repairs itself, strengthens its immune system, and keeps those hormones in check. Drinking too much caffeine laden beverages throughout the day, or drinking it later in the day can affect your deep sleep. Start by reducing your total caffeine intake, or cutting yourself off by 3 PM. Or, better yet, try skipping caffeine for a day and see how your sleep quality improves.
Heavy meals late at night can also interfere with sleep. Large meals stimulate your digestive tract. There is an increase in blood flow and many hormones are being secreted. During digestion the nervous system is stimulated, not calmed, making it difficult to have a good night sleep. So try to eat dinner at least 3 or 4 hours before bedtime.
Try drinking herbal tea. Make yourself a nice hot cup of Chamomile tea to help calm your nervous system before bed. Herbal teas do not contain caffeine and are safe to consume before bed without the risk of stimulating the nervous system.
Balance your meals throughout the day. Do not skip breakfast or lunch as this can through off your hormone balance, which leads to inadequate sleep. These meals should include carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, all of which supply the body with the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for better sleep. A diet high in vitamin B, zinc, and magnesium, all of which can be found in whole grain foods, may help your sleep cycle.
Get off of your phone, tablet, and laptop about an hour before bed. It is not food related, but the blue light that is emitted from these devices will change your melatonin levels, the sleep-inducing hormone. This can make it harder for you to fall asleep, meaning you will sleep less, or have a lower quality sleep. This can lead to increased hunger the next day, and weight gain in the long term. Try reading a book while sipping your chamomile tea instead.
Incorporating these dietary tips should improve the quality of your sleep and overall health.