Nutrition, Digestion and Sleep
It’s no secret that sleep is an important part of health. You’re reminded every time you wake up after a bad night of sleep and wonder how you will make it through the day feeling so exhausted and lethargic. Not only do you feel sleepy and have trouble focusing on anything other than when you next get to lay down and get some shut eye, but your body is also struggling to keep up. Sleep issues can lead to a whole host of physiological complications linked to your food choices, so let’s dive in and take a look.
As well as a lack of sleep impacting your nutrition, the quality of your sleep also plays a huge role when it comes to your food. Research shows that late bed times and wake times, inconsistent sleep schedules, and possibly even day-time sleeping can lead to making poor food choices. When you feel tired, your body may experience actual changes to taste which can lead to craving more high fat, sweet, energy dense and nutrient poor foods. Not only this, but your body actually becomes more excited by the prospect of food, possibly leading to you eating more than you need. Finally, lack of good quality sleep has been linked to behavioural changes that can lead to less healthy food choices and even binge eating, particularly for women.
However, there is some good news! Evidence shows that transitioning to an adequate sleep schedule with enough good quality sleep can reverse some of these effects and lead to better food choices with less intake of those energy dense but nutrient poor foods. What’s even better is that it goes both ways! By making good food choices, you can impact the quality of your sleep and set yourself up for the best possible nutrition the next day.
So, what food related changes do you need to make to get better sleep? Meal timing is a big one, and easy to change. The evidence is a little fuzzy here, but what we do know is that at least 2 hours, with some suggesting up to 4 hours, between your last meal and bed time helps to give your body enough time to start the process of digestion. Sleeping any earlier can lead to disturbances in your sleep as the digestion that needs to happen to that meal is not your body’s priority at bed time – sleep is! As well as meal timing, some key nutrients have been shown to have an impact on sleep quality. One study found that increased fibre intake led to decreased light sleep and increased deep, restorative sleep. The same study showed that high saturated fat intake led to decreased time in that same deep, restorative sleep. Finally, high sugar intake led to waking up more during the night. It also goes without saying that regular exercise helps you to sleep better. Specifically, regular muscular strengthening activities not only improve your overall health but also help you to get enough sleep!
At the end of the day, what does this all mean? Getting enough sleep is essential for your overall health, and to make good food choices. Not getting enough good quality sleep can make it difficult for you to choose nutritious foods and eat well. So aim to sleep for long enough, go to bed early enough, and have a consistent sleep schedule. The best part is that eating well in the first place can help you to achieve this! Take at least two hours between your last meal and bed time, eat a diet high in fibre, limit your saturated fat and sugar intake, exercise regularly and watch the benefits roll in.
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