If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not alone. According to a CDC study, roughly one in three Americans regularly registers less than seven hours of sleep.(1) And that’s not great!
For a quick refresher on why sleep is so important, here are just handful of the vital processes your body undertakes while you’re dozing:
Cell growth and renewal
Tissue and organ repair
Hormone production regulation and processing
Regulation of energy balance
Recording of memories
Sleep, like just about everything your body does, is impacted by nutrition. Similarly, how and what you eat is affected by how much you’re sleeping. Due to both metabolic and psychological factors, sleep and nutrition can interplay with one another to create either a virtuous or vicious cycle: when you eat nutritious foods, you tend to sleep better – and when you sleep better you tend to eat more nutritious foods, and vice versa.
One of the hormones regulated by sleep is called is ghrelin, “the hunger hormone,” which helps our brains know when we are hungry. And another, called leptin, lets us know when we are full. After even just one night of five hours of sleep or less, evidence shows a decrease in leptin release, along with an increase in ghrelin.(2) This combo can lead to increased appetite, and eating beyond the point of satiation.
Then there’s chronic stress as well as chronic inflammation patterns brought on by poor – or no – sleep, which cause an increase in cortisol. This creates an unfortunate cycle of imbalanced sleep patterns and glucose metabolism, plus insulin resistance. Elevated cortisol even has an impact on the health of our intestinal flora, which impacts production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Other chemicals in the brain that help guide food choices may also be impacted by a lack of sleep. In addition, sleep is known to affect concentration, decision-making, and mood, all of which can play into the types of foods we incorporate into our daily diet.
Sleep is essential. We’ve cleared that up. But getting enough sleep can be a real challenge; it can feel like we’re doomed to trudge through our days bleary-eyed, mentally foggy, and tethered to a thermos of lukewarm coffee. Well, what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way?
In fact, there are some things you can tweak throughout your daily routine to help you fall asleep easier, sleep more soundly, and feel more rested the next day, even if you can’t magically carve out several hours of sleep time into your schedule. Here are just a handful of them.(3)
Tryptophan, an amino acid found in meat (like turkey, famously), eggs, fish, dairy, legumes, vegetables, whole grains, bananas, cashews and almonds, has been shown to help in the production of serotonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
Caffeine found in coffee, green and black tea can make it harder to fall asleep and increase the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night. Next time the craving for a late-afternoon hot beverage strikes, consider a relaxing herbal tea like chamomile, fennel, or lemon balm.
Yep, you guessed it. Including five or more servings of fruits and vegetables into your daily routine is an excellent way to infuse your diet with vitamins, minerals and fiber, which in turn can lower cortisol levels. (Good luck finding a blog from us that doesn’t plug five-a-day, by the way!)
Your body needs calories and fats to function properly, but massive meals (especially those rich in fat) can affect your natural digestion process and lead to impared sleep. But if you’re going to dig into a celebratory feast…
This ought to give your body enough of a head start to get your dinner digested, at least to the point where it won’t impact your ability to easily fall asleep.
Regular exercise can contribute to restoring hormonal balance, aid in inflammation, and help regulate our daily sleeping patterns. Don’t have time for a huge workout every day? Even including small bursts of activity throughout the day can make a difference.
Toward the end of the day, stop scrolling, close the laptop, hide the tablet, and turn off the television – avoiding blue light starting an hour to 30 minutes before bed can help your internal clock stay on track. Instead, try screenless activities that help you to relax, such as taking a hot bath, listening to relaxing music or reading a book.