Nutrition and sleep play a key role in our physical and mental health. Fundamentally, when experiencing poor sleep, nutrition is often overlooked— as either the culprit or the cure. But the fact is nutrition affects sleep quality. And in turn, if you are well-rested and refreshed, you may make better, nutritious food choices during the day. If you are tired, you are more likely to reach for fatty foods or refined carbohydrates for a quick energy hit. It becomes a vicious cycle of poor sleep and poor food choices, preventing a night of restful sleep.
Chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity have all been proven to decrease with adequate sleep, while not getting enough sleep increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. It’s as simple as eating smarter, sleeping sounder, and living healthier—which is often easier said than done!
What Is Nutrition?
In a nutshell, nutrition is the study of food and the relationship between nutrients and the health of your body. Nutrients are substances in food that help our bodies grow, survive, and thrive. Most nutrition comes from food, what you drink, and any supplements you might take. For proper nutrition, you must maintain a balanced diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals. Making healthy food choices can prevent weight gain and lower your cholesterol. And individuals who eat a balanced diet are at lower risk for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Your body must draw nutrition from macronutrients, vitamins, and numerous minerals to have energy and function properly.
- Macronutrients. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the main types of macronutrients—often referred to as “macros.” Carbs fuel your body with energy. Protein supplies amino acids to build muscle, skin, and blood while supporting the brain and nervous system. And fat is essential to protect and insulate your organs, brain development, cell function, and energy reserves. Eating a wide variety of foods is essential to get your recommended daily amounts of macronutrients.
- Vitamins. Made up of 13 essential vitamins, vitamins play a specific role in bodily processes, including vision, growth, reproduction, cell division, and immunity. The essential eight B vitamins help break down proteins, release energy from fats and carbohydrates, and transport oxygen.
- Numerous Minerals. Minerals support and power the systems of your body, keeping your heart, muscles, bones, and brain functioning properly. There are two types of minerals: trace minerals and macrominerals. To stay healthy, you need larger amounts of macrominerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, sulfur, and potassium.
How Nutrition Affects Sleep
Many of us are unaware of how much our diets can affect our sleep. In most articles or blog posts that focus on poor sleep, nutrition is rarely addressed. If you suffer from poor sleep or sleep deprivation, look at what you eat and drink, particularly before you go to bed.
Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and some medications can alter our circadian rhythm and worsen our quality of sleep. In particular, alcohol may help you relax and fall asleep quickly, but it inhibits deep sleep. Alcohol prevents you from getting into the restorative stages of sleep, so you wake up groggy. Disruptions are a concern because lack of sleep increases your risk for heart disease, obesity, and infections.
Carbohydrates play an important role in regulating the hormones that help you fall asleep. Research suggests that the amount of carbs in your diet affects your stages of sleep. A diet high in carbohydrates can lead to more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep helps with memory and learning, which is essential for developing children but also for adults. But if you are not eating enough high-quality carbs, you may experience less deep sleep, which is when your body and brain are relaxed, and you wake refreshed. Not all carbs are the same. In general, it is best to eat complex, high-quality carbohydrates—colorful vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, or a bowl of oatmeal. These carbohydrates can boost melatonin and increase better sleep quality. Avoid consuming highly processed, poor-quality carbohydrates like sugary sweets, sodas, or energy drinks close to bedtime.
Lack of sleep can lead to poor nutritional choices that affect our hormones. The normal production of ghrelin and leptin, which control our hunger and appetite, can be disrupted significantly even after a short period of sleeplessness. This hormone imbalance can lead to overeating, frequent snacking, or continuing to eat close to our bedtime.
What Is the Best Diet for Sleep?
Because the relationship between nutrition and sleep is complex and involves so many interconnected systems of the body, researchers cannot determine a single diet that best impacts sleep. A lack of nutrients—calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K—have been shown to be associated with sleeping problems. What studies have proven is that nutrition plays an important role in your sleep. The recommendation is to focus on a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and fruits with your daily allowance of vitamins and nutrients to maintain a healthy weight and support your body’s systems and processes.
If you are considering a change in diet to improve sleep quality, we recommend you first consult with your physician to ensure you are making the best choices for your health. Your physician can rule out barriers to your sleep, such as sleep disorders, and recommend a nutrition plan to suit your lifestyle.
If you need supportive insight about your sleep health to share with your physician, the Dawn House bed system can help. Dawn House offers health sensors in the bed base that passively monitor sleep patterns and health metrics. This information connects with the Dawn House app to provide real-time reports on the level and amount of sleep, heart rate, respiration rate, and movement throughout the night. It can even pinpoint disrupted sleep due to snoring. These reports can be shared with your physician to give them a snapshot of your sleep quality and help determine if your lack of sleep is negatively impacting your health.
Does an Unhealthy Diet Affect Sleep Disorders?
Sleep deprivation can also be due to a sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most serious sleep disorders. OSA can cause impaired breathing and interrupted sleep throughout the night. A key risk factor for OSA is obesity which means an unhealthy diet can contribute to excess weight gain that can worsen and may cause OSA. Studies have shown that if you are trying to lose weight, your results will improve with a better night of sleep. A full night’s sleep can also curtail overeating and promote physical activity when you wake refreshed and energized for the day.
Spicy food can be another culprit in preventing a good night’s sleep. Painful heartburn can make it difficult to lie down comfortably to fall asleep. Acid reflux or indigestion may wake you up during the night. Heartburn can worsen the symptoms of OSA as the acid backing up from your stomach can be irritating to your airway. Some spicy food can even raise your body temperature, making it hard to cool off and fall asleep or sleep soundly throughout the night. The best suggestion is to avoid eating spicy and acidic foods at least three hours before bedtime.
As the popular adage goes, “You are what you eat.” And now, we should add “and how you sleep!” to this expression. Sleep better fueled by a healthy diet and supported by a Dawn House bed, so you are energized and ready to take on the day.