What keeps you alive? Apart from the emotional influences that make individuals’ lives so unique, our basic physiological human needs include air, water, food and rest. Of these needs, food and rest are more intrinsically connected than they may appear. This is because certain foods contain nutrients that can affect the body’s sleep and wake cycles. Considering that sleep deprivation is linked to the overconsumption of junk food, the vicious cycle of poor diet and poor sleep will continue their dance until a new song is played, or a more mindful diet is adopted, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
The Relationship Between Junk Food and Sleep
Of the body’s many hormones, the two that help regulate hunger—ghrelin and leptin—are affected by sleep. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. An easy way to differentiate between these two hormones is by thinking of them as “grubbin’” and “slept in.” When you haven’t “slept in” or slept enough, your leptin levels fall and your ghrelin (or grubbin’) levels spike, making you feel hungrier and more susceptible to overeating. Additionally, sleep deprived individuals consume more fat, less protein and nearly 400 more calories the next day than those who average 7-12 hours of sleep per night, one scientific study finds.
This lack of sleep can also kick off a process in the body that raises the blood level of the lipid, or organic molecule, endocannabinoid. Similar to the effects of cannabis, this lipid makes the act of eating junk food more enjoyable, especially in the evening. Consequently, overindulging in junk food before bed will hinder your quality of sleep and start the cycle again. Knowing the effect that an unbalanced diet can have on your sleep quality, here are a few tips on how to eat your way to a better night’s sleep.
Don’t Eat Right Before Bed
Perhaps lesser known than the age-old adage, “Wait 30 minutes after eating to swim,” is the advice to wait 2-3 hours after eating dinner to go to sleep. The reason? Eating too close to bedtime causes your body to work overtime to digest your food long into the night, preventing you from obtaining a restful sleep. It can also have a negative impact of weight, energy and hormone markers, such as higher glucose and insulin, according to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. To avoid the risk of these detrimental health effects, researchers suggest eating a light dinner and allowing it to digest before retiring to bed. That being said, there are certain foods that you should steer clear of once the sun goes down.
Foods to Avoid
Just as you wouldn’t chug a cup of coffee before heading to bed, you’ll want to avoid any foods or beverages that stimulate the nervous system or cause discomfort, heartburn and indigestion. The most widely known examples include spicy food and foods that are high in caffeine, sugar and fat. Some not-so obvious examples of this can include ketchup (high in sugar), chocolate (high in caffeine), peppermint (which can trigger heartburn), dried fruit and raw onion (both of which can trigger gas). For those who still struggle with heartburn despite dietary changes, the Ananda Adjustable Base Sleep System allows individuals to raise the head of their mattress to the ideal incline of 6- to 8-inches, which may help alleviate nighttime discomfort.
Foods to Enjoy
Like most things in life, the key to a healthy dinner is balance. The National Sleep Foundation suggests meals that are high in fiber and low in added sugars to help you fall asleep faster, log as many as two extra hours of sleep per week and wake up with more energy. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all a part of a balanced diet. Additionally, low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins--such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy--are important to incorporate, because B vitamins help produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. While certain foods, such as honey, oats, bananas, nuts, fruits and vegetables, are rich in melatonin, foods that contain tryptophan, magnesium, calcium and B6 can help the body produce melatonin. Examples of these include almonds, turkey, legumes and avocados.
While the transition into a more balanced diet may seem difficult in the beginning, the great news is that it not only promotes better sleep, but better general health as well. Coupling these health tips with a cool, dark sleep environment and comfortable bed will help you sleep better and feel better.
Disclaimer: Readers should consult with their physicians before making any dramatic dietary changes or looking to achieve long-term relief from health issues, including sleep problems, heartburn and indigestion.