Additionally, an association between short sleep duration and increased obesity among both children and adults has been shown by researchers. This may be partially connected to the impact sleep has on the production of our hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. These hormones are responsible for sending the signals that we are full or hungry and may not be functioning properly if sleep is suboptimal.
While it is critical to address potential underlying factors such as stress, hormone imbalance, gut dysbiosis, or neurotransmitter dysfunction, focusing on the diet can be a great place to start. Here are some tips to consider:
• Regulate blood sugar throughout the day.
If you are waking throughout the night, it could be an indication that blood sugar is dropping or rising, therefore releasing stress hormones that signal the body to wake up. Thus, it is important eat blood sugar stabilizing meals throughout the day in order to avoid the disruptions at night.
The basis of a blood sugar balancing diet involves filling your plate with high-quality protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich vegetables. It also involves avoiding foods with a high glycemic impact, meaning those that induce a quick blood sugar spike. Foods with an unfavorable effect on blood sugar include refined carbohydrates like cereals, pastas, bread, and bagels. Instead, focus on fiber-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes.
• Eat to support a healthy gut.
The health of our gut plays a significant role in our ability to get quality sleep, and the gut is often referred to as the “second brain.” Some of our neurotransmitters that help to regulate our circadian rhythm, such as serotonin, are produced in the gut. Therefore, it is essential that we support the health of our gut microbiome by:
• Avoiding processed foods and sugar, which feed the “bad” bacteria in the gut.
• Choosing organic options because pesticides and herbicides can also disrupt our microbiome.
• Fueling with probiotic-containing foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or yogurt, and also prebiotic-rich options like onions, artichokes, garlic, and flaxseeds.
• Focus on nutrients that are supportive of a healthy stress response.
Some of the key nutrients that may help individuals struggling with poor sleep due to stress and anxiety include vitamin B6, magnesium, and iron.
• Foods sources of vitamin B6:
• Meat, poultry, fish, potatoes, bananas
• Foods sources of magnesium:
• Nuts & seeds, legumes, avocados, leafy green vegetables.
• Foods sources of iron:
• Meat, poultry, fish, beans, leafy green vegetables, whole grains.
• Eat in sync with your circadian rhythm.
The timing of your meals can also play a significant role in the quality of sleep. Eating to support your circadian rhythm involves consuming food while the sun has risen and avoiding calorie consumption when the sun is down. This eating pattern can support optimal hormone production and metabolism. When we eat further away from bedtime, your body has more time to focus energy away from food digestion, and towards other essential functions like repair and detoxification. It is recommended to consume your last meal of the day at least three hours before going to bed.
• Avoid consuming energy drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages
Individuals may reach for these beverages for an energy “pick-me-up” during the day, but are unaware that they could be contributing to the vicious cycle of sleep disruption which led them to the choice in the first place. Additionally, when consuming caffeine in other forms such as coffee or tea, it is important to be mindful of the time of day you are consuming it. The caffeine consumed midday may still be in the system well into the evening hours. You may find it helpful to avoid caffeine consumption after lunchtime, or even earlier.
Remember to also consider additional sources of caffeine intake that may be disrupting your sleep, such as soda or chocolate.