The Connection Between Sleep and Diet

sleep and diet

While you may not realize it, there is a big connection between your weight and how you sleep at night. Several studies point to the need to eat a healthier diet and get more exercise – and lose excess weight if needed.

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Much research has been done regarding the correlation between chronic sleep disruption and weight gain. The most recent studies have found that those who stay up too late have poor diet quality which increases the risk of weight gain. And then, those who are overweight tend to get less quality sleep – resulting in a hard-to-break cycle.

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that an individual’s body composition and caloric intake can significantly influence sleep quality. Using polysomnography, which records physiological changes during sleep, they found that those who are overweight spend more time in REM sleep which is characterized by a faster heart rate and breathing. As it is less restorative than non-REM sleep, a person would feel more tired the next day.

Interestingly, the team also found that increased protein intake also predicted less time in stage 2 restful sleep. While this is an area that needs more research, adopting a high-protein/low carbohydrate style diet may not be the best choice for good sleep, according to this particular study.

When you go to bed matters as well, even if you end up getting the recommended number of hours sleep. A separate study from researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago found that those who have a late bedtime tend to eat more fast food and not enough vegetables. They also tended to get less exercise.

"Our results help us further understand how sleep timing in addition to duration may affect obesity risk," said principal investigator Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. "It is possible that poor dietary behaviors may predispose individuals with late sleep to increased risk of weight gain."

Improving Your Sleep Quality

Here are some tips from HelpGuide.org:

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Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends). This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.

Be smart about napping. While napping is a good way to make up for lost sleep, if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, napping can make things worse. Limit them to 15 to 20 minutes in the early afternoon.

Control your exposure to light. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It is controlled by light exposure, so when it is dark, you secrete more, making you sleepy. Modern life has changed the way our body rhythm works, so get back in tune by exposing yourself to more bright sunlight in the morning and daytime and avoiding bright screens (TV, computer, smartphone) at bedtime.

Get regular exercise. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits, but even light exercise improves sleep quality. Just try to finish a workout at least three hours before bedtime so you aren’t too stimulated to fall asleep!

Be smart about what you eat and drink. Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoons. Caffeine can cause sleep problems even up to twelve hours after you drink it! Avoid big, fatty meals at night or they can cause heartburn. However, a light snack before bed can actually help promote sleep as you won’t be awakened by hunger cues.

Stressed out? Anxiety or chronic worrying that keeps you up late at night is detrimental to sleep (obviously). Try keeping a journal to get your thoughts out of your head before bed time. You may also want to try a stress-relieving technique such as meditation, prayer, or yoga.

References:
• University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Weight and diet may help predict sleep quality: Overweight adults spend more of their sleep in REM stage than healthy weight adults do, says Penn Medicine study." ScienceDaily, 10 June 2016.
• American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Late sleep timing linked to poorer diet quality, lower physical activity: Later sleep timing is associated with higher fast food intake as well as lower vegetable intake, physical activity." ScienceDaily, 8 June 2016.
• HelpGuide.org – How to Sleep Better

Photo Credit: By Laslovarga - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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