Last week, we covered why sleep is important. If you have not read that one, I urge you to go back and read it prior to this one – it is a goody and this post also largely builds on the previous one. This week, we are talking more about the linkage between sleep and nutrition. There are certain nutritional things that influence our sleep. Well, Life and Lemons is all about nutritional food that you customize to your own dietary needs. Sleep and nutrition go hand in hand. This week’s topic is perfect to combine those two.
Sleep and Nutrition
To give away the spoiler – there is a link between diet and sleep. In general, good sleep promotes better nutrition (however that looks for you individually 🙏🏻) and better nutrition promotes good sleep. There are certain stimulants that are definitely not super beneficial to our sleep. Those tend to be things that increase arousal or alertness in our bodies.
One of these stimulants is caffeine. Caffeine basically suppresses the hormones that increase throughout the day to make us feel sleepy and go to bed. You do not have to say goodbye to caffeine entirely but you should be aware of the following. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours. So, after 6 hours there is still about half of the caffeine you drank in your body. That means that there is still about a quarter of the caffeine left in your system after 12 hours. Try and have your caffeinated beverages in the morning and avoid them after midday or latest 2 pm. That way your body has a chance to also build up those hormones that are important in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Oh – and let me just find a quick word on that double espresso after dinner, which my husband always tells me does not impact his sleep 😉. Whereas you may fall asleep easily after your espresso (which may also be to you have had a long day and are generally being overtired), studies have shown that you are spending most of your sleeping time in lighter sleep not being able to go into those deep sleep stages N3 and REM. This, in turn, will mean that you body can do less repair work both from a physiological and psychological perspective and you will likely wake up feeling less refreshed.
I hate to break this one to you, but alcohol is not your fan when it comes to sleep. Alcohol in your system is largely disturbing your ability to sleep. It inhibits you from going into REM sleep stages and in general, you tend to have a lot more fragmentation during the night. If you do drink alcohol, try to avoid it too close to your bedtime and have breaks in between the days you are drinking so that your body can catch up on good, quality sleep.
Sugar also promotes stimulation and alertness. Studies show that people who have a diet with lots of sugar tend to sleep less deeply and are thereby less rested during the day. There has also been a link established between a lot of sugar in someone’s diet and the tendency to eat a lot more later in the day. This effect is largely driven by your blood sugar is out of control and thereby your hormones not being optimally regulated (we will touch on this in the next part as well). Disrupted sleep tends to also promote a greater need for more sugar (in order to be alert again) the following day.
You have probably experienced this before at one stage or another. Too big a meal too close to bedtime will make it difficult for you to sleep. Why? Because digestion and sleep are two very different biological processes and they are not friends. If you have a lot of food in your stomach, your body will spend its time on digestion. Meaning your energy is directed towards that effort, which means that it cannot focus as much on falling asleep. The process of digestion, in general, also increases your metabolism and also your core body temperature. You need a drop in body temperature in order to fall asleep.
What is even worse is that sleep ensures that our “hunger” hormones – leptin and ghrelin are optimally regulated. Leptin is indicated to you when you are full. Ghrelin indicates to you when you are hungry. With restless or little sleep, ghrelin is increased. That means you are feeling more hungry throughout the day. In addition, leptin is reduced. So you will not know as well when you are actually full and likely eat a lot more. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to reduce your willpower and make less healthy choices overall.
Are There Foods That Promote Sleep?
So, yes and no on this one. We have all heard about the apple before bed or the warm milk with honey. Or the pumpkin seeds that you should consume, along with maybe some banana and turkey. That makes for a pretty full plate again 🤣. Milk contains calcium and magnesium, which are natural tranquilizers for our bodies. Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, which is both the pre-cursor to serotonin and melatonin. Those are both needed for sleeping well. But you have to remember that you would need to consume a lot of these foods in order for them to end up in your blood stream. A balanced diet overall is much more beneficial than focussing on what you could or should eat before bed time.
When is the Ideal Time for Dinner before Bed?
As we discussed above, heavy meals and too much food in our stomachs make it difficult for us to fall asleep. Ideally, your last meal of the day should be on the lighter side and be consumed at least two hours before bed. If you can even make that a little bit longer, your body will likely thank you 😉.
And that is it for this week 💕. I hope you enjoyed the connection between sleep and nutrition and have learned something about the absolutely fascinating processes our body goes through in order to put us to rest and how easily they can be thrown out of balance. Beautiful cover photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash.