Was eating better on your list of resolutions this year? Regardless of where we are in our health journeys, many Australians make an effort to eat better on a regular basis. What many people don’t know is the incredible impact sleep has on our ability to make smart dietary choices—and on the flip side, how what we eat affects the quality of our rest.
Sleep has a dynamic relationship with many aspects of your health. For example, we know that not sleeping enough can sensitize you to stress and other negative emotions. We also know that stress and depression make it harder to get to sleep. A similar relationship exists between sleep and your diet.
Have you ever noticed that food cravings are much more difficult to control after a restless night? There are a few factors at work here. Firstly, not getting enough sleep hampers the function of your prefrontal cortex, which controls your decision-making power, among other things. Even the most disciplined eater will find it more difficult to choose healthy foods if they haven’t gotten enough rest. Next, sleep loss actually increases hunger by altering the function of two hormones—ghrelin and leptin–both of which play an important role in controlling your feelings of hunger and satiety. Combine that with reduced willpower, and you have a recipe for diet disaster!
There is less solid research on how what you eat and drink influences the quality of your rest, but here’s what we do know. First, the obvious: don’t consume caffeine before bed, or anywhere near bedtime, since its effects last for hours after consumption. Generally, eating a nutritious, varied diet comprised mostly of natural foods will go a long way towards making sure you hit all your nutrient targets. Getting enough B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and calcium is particularly important for quality sleep, since these deficiencies can affect your nervous system, leaving you stressed out. Avoid refined carbohydrates wherever possible—there’s some evidence that these foods can trigger the release of stress hormones. Lastly, before bed, it’s a good idea to avoid large, heavy meals and spicy foods that can irritate your digestive system and leave you tossing and turning.
At Regal, we always stress that health is made up of three equally important pillars: nutrition, exercise, and sleep. There’s mounting evidence that each pillar is intertwined with the others, and you’re bound to save yourself a great deal of health problems down the line by prioritizing all three as often as you can.