Eat better, sleep better

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Ryan Day Coaching

You wake up feeling groggy after only having two glasses of wine the night before (maybe that’s this morning).  You toss and turn all night after having a third (or fourth or fifth) slice of pizza.

All of us have gotten subpar sleep from something we’ve consumed, but we don’t always put two and two together to identify our diet as the cause of our bad sleep.

In fact, we often look at nutrition and sleep as separate entities, but they are very much intertwined.

The connection between the food you eat and the quality of your sleep is profound.

So today we’ll explore this often-underestimated relationship and look at some practical ways to enhance both your nutrition and sleep for a healthier life.

Understanding the Sleep-Nutrition Connection

Before we dive into the practical aspects, let’s establish how sleep and nutrition are connected.

Body Clock Harmony

Your body operates on a circadian rhythm, a natural internal clock that dictates when you should be awake and when you should sleep. Nutrition can influence this clock, causing you to stay up later than you want or stay in bed for an hour after your alarm goes off.

Eating too much, eating right before bed, and drinking alcohol are all common offenders that negatively affect our sleep quality.

These can cause us to struggle either getting to sleep or staying asleep as our body tries to digest what we just ate.  So we toss and turn all night, and wake up the next day feeling like we hardly slept.

Hormonal Balance

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in balancing hormones, including those that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Your dietary choices can either support or disrupt this delicate balance.

On the flip-side, your sleep quality and quantity directly affect your hunger hormones.  Two hormones in particular, ghrelin and leptin, are key in regulating hunger.  

Poor quality sleep is associated with higher ghrelin and lower leptin levels, which causes more hunger.  So, less good sleep might cause you to eat more, which isn’t ideal for those trying to lose weight.

Mood & Stress

Nutrient-rich foods can positively impact your mood and reduce stress, which, in turn, can enhance the quality of your sleep.

Conversely, poor dietary choices can lead to increased stress and restless nights, which cause us to wake up cranky and irritable.  These days are the worst – for us and those around us.

Enhancing Sleep through Nutrition

Now that we’ve established the connection, let’s discuss the opportunity we have here. Rather than considering sleep and nutrition separately, we can see how working to improve both can elevate our overall health.

Food Timing

Pay attention to the time (and contents) of your last meal and sleep quality that night.

Best way to do this?  When you wake up each morning, think about two things: (1) how you slept and (2) how close to bed you ate.  

You might start to notice that you sleep like a baby on nights when you eat three hours before bed.  Or maybe for you, that’s five hours before bed.  Maybe it’s one hour. Each of us is different.  

Or maybe you notice that your sleep isn’t so great on nights when you have a 10 PM snack.  Or maybe it doesn’t affect you.  That’s for you to determine!

Hydration

Staying well-hydrated is essential for quality sleep.

This is a bit of a conundrum because too much water before bed is going to make you get up to pee, which is bad for sleep quality.  So what do we do?

I recommend only sipping water for the two hours leading up to bed, and if you add some minerals via sea salt or Himalayan salt, even better!  

It’s important to note here that it helps to focus on adequate hydration during the first ¾ of the day. You don’t want to be playing catch up on your water consumption 30 minutes before bedtime.

Caffeine & Alcohol Awareness

Yes, caffeine and alcohol can be great.  I’m not here to rain on your parade, but they are not helping your sleep.  

Alcohol is almost always going to lead to low-quality sleep.  While I understand it’s not always achievable, if you can avoid alcohol in the three hours before bed your sleep will thank you for it.

On the caffeine front, the individual variance is huge.  Some people can drink a cup of coffee and go right to sleep.  Others can’t have any caffeine at all without it affecting their sleep.  

My advice: experiment.  Start paying attention to when you last consumed caffeine and your sleep quality that night.  

Dial back your last cup of coffee by an hour each day until you notice consistent, quality sleep.  For me, any caffeine after 2 PM and I can guarantee the first half of my night of sleep is going to be garbage.  See what works for you.

Vitamins & Minerals

Ensure the foods you’re eating provide adequate vitamins and minerals, like magnesium and B vitamins, which play a significant role in sleep regulation.

Remember earlier when I said to think about two things when you wake up?  Well, I’m adding a third.  So now you have three things to consider when you wake up: (1) how you slept, (2) time of your last meal, and (3) contents of your last meal.  

Maybe you notice that when you eat foods generally lacking in nutrients (pizza, fast food, takeout, you know the ones), your sleep isn’t as great.  Or maybe you notice that you sleep really well when you have a nice cut of steak with asparagus and a baked potato.

All things considered, consuming a balanced meal (with nutrient-dense foods!) a few hours before bedtime will generally promote better sleep.  It helps your body maintain steady blood sugar levels and gives your body time to chill out after working hard to digest everything.

On the topic of specific nutrients – most Americans are deficient in magnesium, and magnesium supplementation alone has been associated with improved sleep markers.

While it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals through whole foods, sometimes it’s just tough, and supplementation can help get you where you need to be.  For me, magnesium is something I need to supplement, and my sleep has markedly improved since starting.

That said, what’s right for me might not be right for you (and you should always ask your doctor before taking any new supplements).  

The individual variance here is huge.  Every person’s body reacts differently to foods, and sleep/wake cycles are all over the board.  

If you’re tired of being tired, start paying attention to what and when you’re eating.  

Start by using the three questions I laid out above.  These will help you develop some awareness, and you can adjust accordingly.

IMO, sleep is the most underrated of the three big rocks of health (sleep, nutrition, exercise).  Nobody realizes its power until they take control of it and start getting consistent, quality sleep.

Here’s your chance to figure it out sooner than most.  As always, I’m here if you need some help.