What’s the association between sleep and nutrition? Sleep affects nutrition & nutrition affects sleep.
I love my sleep and value it so much after having children! Good quality sleep is so important for health and well-being. So when I see people who don’t sleep well because of what and how they eat I almost want to change positions with them because I know most of the time you can control this behaviour!
As a clinical dietitian I have seen a trend between nutrition and sleep and sleep and weight issues. The association is if you don’t sleep well your dietary and lifestyle habits are likely to be not so healthy. I also see people with poor eating and physical activity behaviours and sleep is negatively affected. In both instances these people’s relationships with food and their body’s is poor. They often come to me wanting to lose weight which is a symptom of the cause(s). I also see clients who work shift work and often they need assistance with eating well. The same can be said for the shift workers I see. Dr Banks has found the same in her work as a researcher, “Sleeping poorly can have a range of side effects that impact on our weight. It can lead to poor food choices, lack of energy to exercise and it can negatively impact our glucose metabolism.”
There’s no secret that sleep affects our physiological function. In particular, I notice an issue with appetite control. For some people they are ravenous and/or have increased cravings for high energy foods particularly in the late afternoon/evenings, whilst others do not feel the desire to eat. In some people they don’t often connect with how their stomach’s are feeling. In the short-term, lack of sleep is unlikely a problem. Lack of sleep in the long-term can disrupt our hormone and metabolism balance and can contribute to weight gain.
The two hormones which are affected by long-term poor sleep and therefore impact upon our appetite and metabolism are ghrelin and leptin.
Too much of the hormone ghrelin makes us feel like we’re starving. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach while we sleep and it’s thought that adequate sleep can help produce adequate ghrelin. However, lack of adequate sleep upsets the balance, leading to an over stimulation of ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that is tells us when we’ve had enough to eat. The disrupted hormone balance of leptin and ghrelin likely increases appetite and our desire to eat.
Nutrition tips for improved sleep:
- Limit caffeine
Caffeinated food and drinks should be avoided at least 4 hours before bed. Limit your daily intake to no more than 400mg/day. Caffeine affects our sleep in 3 ways. Firstly it can make it harder to go to sleep. Secondly it can make you sleep more lightly and thirdly, it can make you get up to go to the toilet during the night. Caffeine effects can last up to 8 hours, but your body needs about 24 hours to completely eliminate it.
- Limit alcohol
Alcohol can make you feel sleepy and may help you to fall asleep at night. Alcohol disrupts your sleep later in the night with more frequent awakenings, night sweats, nightmares, headaches and is much less restful. It is best to avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime. Binge drinking will affect your levels of melatonin for up to a week. Melatonin is an important hormone that makes us feel sleepy at night, helps us to sleep better and regulates our body rhythm.
- Eating at least 2 hours before bed.
Eating at least 2 hours before bed helps to minimise reflux symptoms in susceptible people and helps you to go to bed when your stomach is hungry or full/overfull. A light snack/supper before bed like a glass of milk or sandwich can help you to sleep better because of the presence of tryptophan.
Exercising in the afternoon or early evening in particular can help you fall asleep by raising body temperature a few hours before bed, allowing it to fall as you are ready for sleep later in the evening. Exercise too close to bedtime can make body temperature the rise having the reverse effect on your sleep. Exercise can help you to sleep by relieving stress so any exercise is beneficial regardless of the time on the clock.
- Wind down an hour before with sleep routine
Use the hour before bed time for relaxation and go to bed the same time each night. Get yourself into a good routine so your body knows it’s time to sleep.
Nutrition tips for shift workers:
- Eat main meal before going to work. Eating large meals during the night can cause heartburn and sleepiness.
- Pack nutritious snacks – Food availability may be an issue during your shift. The cafeteria may be closed and vending machine may have a selection of ‘sometimes’ (high fat, high sugar and high salt) foods. Packing healthy snack helps you to eat when you are hungry. Healthy snack ideas include: cheese and crackers, yoghurt, smoothie, fruit (fresh/canned/dried), vegies (cut up carrots/celery/cucumber) and dip, sandwich.
- Limit fatty, fried or spicy foods.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks – These may give you the quick energy boost you are looking for but it won’t last.
- Take time to eat slowly.
- Stay hydrated with water.
- Limit the caffeine to 400mg a day (about 4 small cups of regular coffee).
- Avoid alcohol
- Have a light snack before bedtime – To avoid feeling hungry or over full as this affects your ability to sleep.
For more information on sleep visit: http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/
How is your sleep quality? Have you found the above associations?
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Wishing you all delectable dietetics sleep!
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