You are what you sleep is arguably a truer statement than “you are what you eat”. Sleep is one of the most important things to get right if you want to improve your health and fitness. There is a now lot of research to show how poor sleep is linked to depression and obesity. In a sporting context, sleep is crucial to help muscle repair and recovery as well as immune health. What’s more, good sleep is so important that even if you eat well and exercise regularly, but don’t sleep well, then your health will still suffer. Many of us however overlook sleep by working late, watching TV and checking twitter and facebook accounts. This is a modern trend as a result of today’s society but it is contributing to ill health and hampering people’s efforts to get fit. What you eat affects how you sleep so below are some nutrition tips to help you catch those z’s:
What not to eat
Our sleep/wake cycle is controlled by certain hormones. One important hormone is cortisol. This should be naturally high in the morning (to wake us up and keep us alert) and low in the evening. Therefore, a high level of cortisol in the evening will prevent you from falling asleep. Stimulants and high sugar type foods can result in high levels of cortisol and thus should be avoided in the evening time. This means avoiding caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and soft drinks at nightime and high sugar/carbohydrate foods such as sweets, biscuits, toast and cereals. While sweets and chocolate are obvious high sugar foods, other foods such as cereals and toast also get converted into sugar quickly and cause a fast blood sugar rush. The spike in blood sugar will result in a low, and it is this low that causes the release of cortisol. So it’s important to not only avoid sugary foods prior to bedtime, but also simple carbohydrate type foods.
What and when to eat
In order for you to naturally fall asleep, the brain needs to release some relaxing and calming signals. These come in the form of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin. An important amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin is called Tryptophan. This can be found in protein type foods such as dairy and nuts. Another important nutrient that helps the calming signals is Magnesium, which again can be found in nuts such as almonds. Eating a large meal close to bedtime is not recommended as the digestion process needs insulin to function. Insulin will prevent melatonin and the important repair hormone (Growth Hormone) from being released. Therefore, ideally it is better to consume your main meal 3-4hrs before bedtime so that insulin has time to lower as digestion finishes. That’s not to say you cannot eat a small snack before bedtime. As mentioned, snacks such as greek yoghurt or some cheese and nuts can help sleep without overworking the digestive system.
Nutrition is just one part of the equation to a peaceful nights rest. The other important factors are light and stress. It’s crucial to reduce your exposure to artificial light at nightime by dimming lights, avoiding TV and computer screens and sleeping in a completely darkened room.
Key Summary Points:
- Avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates close to bedtime
- Eat your main meal 3-4hrs before bedtime
- If hungry, consume a small snack like almonds with yoghurt
- Avoid artificial blue light from screens 1-2hrs before bedtime
- Look into using “blue light blocker” glasses if working late
- Download Flux software to control screen brightness
- Leave all devices (laptop, smartphone) outside of bedroom or place in airplane mode
- make your bedroom pitch black , use black-out curtains where necessary
- Use candles/lanterns or orange light type bulbs in the bedroom
- De-stress by avoiding all emails, complicated discussions etc, pre bedtime
- Use breathing techniques or any type of meditation to aid sleep