Mar 29th, 2015
Author: Ben Brown
It protects our heart and our brains, and keeps our waistlines from expanding. It keeps our risk of disease at bay and helps our body stay strong, energetic and our minds alert.
Yet, all too often, we sacrifice our indispensable time for sleep.
With 75% of Americans experiencing at least one self-reported sleep condition and both adults and children averaging at least 1-2 hours per night less than the recommended 7-9 hours, it’s clear we have a serious problem on our hands.
So why is sleep so vitally important?
Very simply, when we don’t sleep enough, we can’t effectively manage our circadian rhythms, the body’s natural mechanism for regenerating our brain and body cells, and maintaining stable hormonal output.
Lack of sleep leads to altered fundamental mechanisms, like hormonal control, body temperature, blood pressure, and cellular repair. Chronic sleep deprivation can impact blood sugar regulation, thyroid output, stress hormone production (like cortisol), sex hormone production, digestion and absorption of nutrients, decrease cognitive function, and delay the body’s ability to recover from exercise.
Regardless of how hard you’re working in the gym or how healthy you’re eating, if you’re not sleeping, your efforts will be futile.
Here are 5 useful nutritional guidelines that can help induce a healthy nights sleep:
#1: Determine which types of foods help you sleep the best
There is often a strong connection between the types of foods you eat at your daily meals and your sleep. Of particular importance is when you choose to consume these foods. For example, some people report that a higher carbohydrate meal helps them fall asleep, while others report that a high protein and/or high fat meal helps them sleep. Try experimenting with the following:
1) Try putting your protein in your morning meal, snacks and lunch. Emphasize lean sources of protein, like fish, eggs, poultry, and beans.
2) Shift your carbohydrates from earlier to later in the day while cutting back on protein, particularly after 4pm in the afternoon. Choose whole and sprouted grains and fibrous food sources of carbohydrates from potatoes, rice, oats, cereals, starchy vegetables and fruit.
Try these recommendations for a few weeks and observe if any changes occur in your sleep or other aspects of your health. Another time, try making the last meal you have before bed high in protein and low in carbohydrates for a few weeks. For example a non-starchy vegetable and meat/fish dish. Also compare the effect of large meals and small meals as your final meal for the day. You may notice a connection between different meals and your sleep.
#2: Choose smarter carbs and avoid alcohol before bed
As mentioned above, lower starch carbohydrates consumed later in the day may help induce sleep. Steer clear of alcohol as well as more refined and processed foods, like cookies, pastries, breads, and other sugary snack foods late at night as these can cause profound blood sugar fluctuations in the middle of the night.
If you find yourself waking up consistently around 2-4 hours after falling asleep, there’s a good chance the foods (or drinks) you’re consuming before bed may be contributing to low blood sugar, thereby elevating your stress hormone cortisol, suppressing melatonin (your sleep hormones), and waking you up.
#3: Avoid caffeine late in the day
Stimulants like caffeine have the ability to affect our natural circadian rhythms and prevent restful sleep. Regardless of how well you think you tolerate caffeine, most people would benefit from avoiding it after 1-2pm.
#4: Use magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that has the ability to calm the nervous system and fight inflammation, high levels of which can contribute to poor sleep. Ideally we would get enough of this from our foods (sources like dark leafy greens, fish, nuts and seeds, rice and chocolate), but because of poor soil quality, the nutrient density of our foods is far from what it once was.
Two excellent options for supplemental magnesium come from 1) a chelated form of magnesium, like magnesium citrate, glycinate, taurate, aspartate, malate, succinate or fumarate, and/or 2) an Epsom salt bath before bed. Use 2-4 lbs in hot water and soak for 20-30 minutes.
#5: Drink some herbal tea or use aromatherapy
Chamomile and valerian are two popular herbal sleep aids that may help induce relaxation and calming prior to sleep. However, the research is conflicting, and it may in fact simply be the routine of drinking a warming cup of tea that can be of aid.
Of additional benefit is aromatherapy, which may provide more potent dosages of the aforementioned herbs from essential oils. Use a diffuser in your bedroom at night or create a misting spray for your pillows and sheets.
In our fast paced society, our ability to rest and recover may be our most powerful weapon against chronic fatigue, weight gain and disease prevention. Use these 5 nutrition guidelines to better tune in to your sleep habits and promote more deep, restful sleep tonight.