The Basics of Sleep and Food-Sleep Relationship

By reading this guide, you probably know how important a good night’s sleep is, how it feels to live without it, and are eager to reclaim a routine that offers you quality sleep.

Whatever your sleeping problems may be, this guide will guide you back to better sleep through food, regardless of whether you have the occasional night of insomnia or have been lacking quality sleep for years. The sleep cycle is greatly influenced by the foods and times you eat during the day.

By eating sleep-wise during the day—and especially before bed—you can reestablish your circadian rhythm and sleep more soundly. A good night’s sleep is directly related to good nutrition!

Sleep Basics

The majority of the time we spend sleeping is asleep, so let’s make the most of it! Even though you’re not doing much moving when you’re sleeping, it is a very active, restorative process. 

Sleep plays an important role in the building and repair of tissues, and good sleep helps us consolidate our memories. It is essential that you consolidate your memory in order to learn new information and then recall it when you’re awake.

To maintain good health, adults should sleep 7–8 hours a night. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night experience a short sleep duration. About a third of Americans sleep less than that each night. Children seem to have it easy sleeping whenever and wherever, but as we mature and our lives become more hectic, it becomes all too common to struggle to fall or stay asleep.

The Best Sleep Supplements Reviewed

I have written many reviews about the best sleep supplements. If you want to know how these sleep supplements work and if they can help you sleep better, you may read the sleep supplements reviews below:

Pitch Black Supplement – Sleep Supplement 

Harmonium Sleep Support – Sleep Supplement 

The Stages of Sleep

A person’s sleep is divided into five stages based on both the brain-wave frequency and biological rhythms that occur. The REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep is different from the non-REM phase. REM stages 4 and 5 are followed by non-REM stages 1–3, during which dreams usually take place. The sleep cycle starts over after the REM stages, and the sleep cycle usually lasts for a few minutes.

Stage 1: Sleep at this stage is the lightest. The brain-wave frequency is only slightly slower than when the person is awake, and breathing is normal.

Stage 2: In this level of sleep, the electroencephalogram shows “sawtooth” brain waves, and the sleeping individual is more difficult to wake up.

Stage 3: Sleep during this phase is important for bone and muscle growth, as well as for the body’s repair and strengthening of tissues. A sleeper in this state is very hard to wake, and if awakened in this condition, the individual is very disoriented.

Stages 4 and 5: After falling asleep, both of these REM stages occur roughly 90 minutes later. Breathing and heart rate increase. When these stages occur, dreaming is most likely to happen. In the beginning of the REM cycle, the first phase can last 10 minutes. However, the later phases can last up to 60 minutes. Over time, the amount of time spent in REM sleep decreases. In infants, REM sleep can account for about half of the time they spend sleeping. In adults, REM sleep accounts for only about 20% of the time.

You can use wrist devices and apps to determine how well you sleep at night. It may be worth considering a monitoring device or sleep study done by a healthcare professional if you are sleeping through the night but still wake up tired in the morning and have low energy levels during the day.

Tryptophan, Serotonin, and Melatonin

Tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin are all essential for quality sleep. Among other things, tryptophan is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and serotonin is needed to produce the hormone melatonin. Let’s examine each of them individually.

Tryptophan

Protein-containing foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy foods, contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from food. In studies, tryptophan-deficient diets have been shown to cause lower levels of serotonin because tryptophan is needed for the production of serotonin in the body. 

There are other important nutrients required for the body to convert tryptophan into serotonin, including vitamin B6, magnesium, and niacin

Those with severe forms of insomnia may also benefit from tryptophan supplementation, as clinical trials have shown it relieves insomnia symptoms. 

Researchers found L-tryptophan to be more effective in treating sleep-onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep initially) than sleep-maintenance insomnia (difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early) and that this effect is cumulative. In other words, the effects of the medication may not be seen for at least one week after beginning treatment in chronic insomnia patients.

Serotonin

As a neurotransmitter, dopamine plays a variety of roles in the body, including regulating appetite, digestion, sleep, and memory, to name a few. It is found both in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes everything outside of the brain and spinal cord. 

As the precursor to melatonin, serotonin can also impact your sleep-wake cycle as well. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, poor memory, and negative mood. A lot of people suffering from depression have trouble sleeping as well, which is an important factor to consider.

Serotonin is not found naturally in foods like tryptophan. Make sure you consume enough tryptophan-containing foods, but you can also increase serotonin levels through exercise and light therapy.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone found in the body that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is released by the body to prepare for sleep once night falls and the eyes experience darkness. 

Melatonin production decreases as the sun rises in the morning to help the body wake up and begin the day. Researchers have found that nocturnal levels of melatonin and sleep quality begin to decline at puberty, and as we get older, sleep periods become shorter.

Synthetic melatonin, in pill or liquid form, can be taken if your body isn’t producing enough naturally, possibly due to low serotonin levels.

For people who are blind and need help establishing a consistent sleep schedule, melatonin supplements can help adjust their sleep-wake cycles due to jet lag or sleep disturbances. You should always consult with your doctor prior to starting a new medication or supplement.

Resurge is one of the most popular melatonin supplements that promise to help you sleep better. The supplement might allow your body to absorb enough melatonin to maximize your natural melatonin production. Apart from that, it is also marketed as a weight-loss supplement because epidemiological studies show that insufficient sleep is associated with a higher risk of obesity

Although more research is needed, current evidence suggests that melatonin can be useful in helping people get to sleep. When taken for short or long periods of time, melatonin supplements appear to be safe for adults, according to studies

However, since the supplement industry is barely regulated, you might want to read some reviews for the Resurge supplement before making any purchase.

Fortunately, certain foods naturally contain melatonin. You can obtain natural sources of this sleep-regulating hormone by including more of these foods in your diet.

Using a synthetic form of melatonin on a short-term basis can be beneficial and safe for most adults; however, if used long-term, there may be adverse side effects.

The most common side effects reported are headaches, sleepiness, irritability, and dizziness. Some people have reported that they have used melatonin for as long as two years with no negative side effects. The length of time that you can use it without negative side effects depends primarily on you. When taken with sedatives, melatonin can cause extreme sleepiness.

How Poor Sleep Impacts Food Choices

A symbiotic relationship exists between sleep, nutrition, and exercise, either working together or against one another. You can lose motivation to exercise if you’re not getting enough sleep or have a poor diet. Or, perhaps it all starts with a lack of exercise, resulting in poor sleep and consistently bad eating habits.

If you are tired after work, would you still want to go to the gym? Would you probably grab a second, third, or maybe fourth cup of coffee or energy drink if you only had 2 solid hours of sleep the night before? 

The moment one aspect of a healthy lifestyle becomes compromised, the others are sure to follow. However, the opposite is also true. Taking action to improve one area will result in improvements in all of them.

Numerous studies have shown that we are more likely to make poor food choices when our bodies and brains lack sleep. With sluggish bodies and tired minds, it is easier for us to make food decisions on the spur of the moment. 

The problem with walking around like a zombie throughout the day is that it’s all too easy to opt for a fast-food meal or coffee that are less than nutritious as a quick “energy fix.”. Besides contributing to unwanted weight gain and chronic disease, unhealthy eating habits like these are likely to lead to chronic illness.

How Food Choices Impact Sleep

The food you eat fuels every single thing that your body does throughout the day, even while you sleep. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? According to the US Department of Agriculture’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Calcium, potassium, dietary fibre, and vitamin D are the most under-consumed nutrients among Americans. The nutrients and the foods that provide those nutrients are extremely important for getting a good night’s sleep.

Low blood sugar (blood glucose) levels while sleeping can lead to a stimulation in the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which promote awakening. 

For example, when you eat candy before bed or snack on chips, you may experience a dip in nighttime blood glucose levels, because the carbohydrates (“sugar”) in those foods are processed quickly. 

In many ways, homemade popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese would be a better choice than a sugary snack before bed since popcorn is a whole grain and has fibre, which allows the blood glucose to be absorbed more slowly.

Our health often depends on what we eat and not what we don’t rather than focusing on healthy oils, fats, and proteins. You won’t be made or broken by a particular meal or food. What counts most is your overall diet. 

In general, it is impossible to meet all of your nutritional needs each and every day, nor would it be healthy for your mental health to put this much focus on achieving such a goal every day! This would be too time-consuming, energy-consuming, and attention-demanding. Consider the bigger picture from week to week instead. During the week, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I eat enough fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to get enough fibre?
  • For heart health benefits, do I need to eat foods rich in omega-3s?
  • Do I feel energized throughout the day? If not, I might want to consider balancing my carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, as well as limit my refined sugar and caffeine consumption.
  • Is there enough water in my system or have I eaten enough hydrating foods lately?

When you choose to think about your overall dietary habits week after week and what you can consume or should consume more of, eating becomes a more positive experience, which it should be! Stress and anxiety shouldn’t accompany eating.

Furthermore, do not ignore the hunger signals that you are experiencing. Find a nourishing snack that will satisfy your body and nourish it! When your body is sending you signals that it is hungry, skipping meals is not beneficial for weight loss, and you may be deprived of important nutrients that your body needs to perform effectively.

The Trouble with Poor Sleep

One may be unaware of the impact that sleep deprivation can have on their daily life. 

You may be unable to keep your eyes open during the day, and may also have trouble focusing, procrastinating on tasks, forget important events or information, lack the motivation to exercise or participate in other activities and make poor food choices. A lack of sleep consistently can lead to accidents on the job or in the car.

In the long term, sleep deprivation and fatigue invite chronic diseases such as anxiety, depression, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders. It’s common for individuals who experience poor sleep quality to also report having “poor” health, according to the Sleep Health Index.

It’s hard to ignore the parallel upward trend of rates of deficient sleep, obesity, diabetes, and mental health issues in America. Let’s take a look at each of these concerns and how many of them overlap.

Mental Health

When you don’t get enough sleep, sleep troubles are often accompanied by anxiety and stress. Anxiety and sleep disorders often coexist, making it difficult to determine which came first.

Research has shown that individuals diagnosed with insomnia, defined clinically as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up tired, and rising too early in the morning, are at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

It’s normal to feel sad from time to time, but persistent hopelessness, sadness, and a lack of interest in once enjoyed activities might be signs of depression. Depression affects approximately 20 million people in the United States, and it can be effectively treated through proper treatment, regardless of the cause. 

Depressive symptoms may worsen or cause sleep disorders similar to anxiety. Sleep disorder symptoms can interfere with depression, as well as make it worse. Individuals suffering from depression are often diagnosed with insomnia.

Obesity and Metabolic Disorders

The body of evidence linking sleep deprivation to obesity continues to increase, and the rise in obesity rates has been mirrored by the increase in sleep problems worldwide.

Poor sleep leads to changes in metabolic and endocrine functions, including decreased insulin sensitivity, increased levels of ghrelin (the hormone that signals hunger to the brain), decreased levels of leptin (the hormone that signals fullness to the brain), and an increase in cortisol levels at night. Let’s take a look at how each of these sleep deprivation–related changes can impact the body over time.

Recent research has even shown that lack of sleep can increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that beta-amyloid, a protein “waste product” that builds up in the fluid between brain neurons, was increased during sleep deprivation.

Researchers have linked beta-amyloid to Alzheimer’s disease and the formation of plaques on neurons in the brain that inhibit neural communication. Researchers found that beta-amyloid deposits increased by five percent after just one night of poor sleep.

Hunger Hormones

An insufficient amount of sleep will alter the hormones responsible for appetite and fullness. In general, ghrelin is referred to as the “hunger hormone” because it tells the brain to consume more food and store fat. 

Leptin is the appetite suppressor and signals to the brain that there is enough energy stored in the body. These two hunger hormones are thought of as the “yin-yang” of appetite regulation, and a lack of sleep interferes with the “fullness hormone,” potentially leading to overeating at meals and possible weight gain. 

A 2004 study from the University of Chicago Medical Center found that research subjects who only slept for 4 hours a night, two nights in a row, had an 18 percent decrease in leptin levels and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin levels.

In obese people, leptin doesn’t work despite higher levels; instead, resistance develops as more and more leptin is needed to suppress hunger signals, similar to how insulin resistance occurs in people with prediabetes and elevated blood glucose levels.

The Nurses’ Health Study followed over 68,000 women over 16 years, collecting data on their weight, diet, sleep, and lifestyle habits. 

Researchers found that women who slept fewer than seven hours per night had an increased risk of being obese by 15 percent compared to women who slept more than seven hours.

CORTISOL LEVELS AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE

Often, people think about diet, exercise, and genetics as contributing factors to heart health, but good sleep is also important. Regardless of age, weight, activity level, or smoking habits, people with consistently poor sleep are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Studies have shown that a lack of quality sleep can cause an increase at night in cortisol, a stress hormone responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response. When you need to be more alert, cortisol can be useful; however, it can be counterproductive when you are trying to sleep. 

A higher-than-normal level of cortisol in the body while sleeping prevents this physiological process from occurring, which leads to higher heart rates and blood pressure. Eventually, this may result in increased blood pressure during the day, as well as cardiovascular issues.

INSULIN SENSITIVITY AND DIABETES

Poor insulin sensitivity, or insulin resistance, means that your cells start requiring more and more insulin from the pancreas to take in glucose from the blood. In order to keep up with blood glucose levels, the pancreas must continuously produce insulin. Through time, however, this can exhaust the pancreas. 

Prediabetes or diabetes occurs when glucose starts to build up in the blood, unable to enter cells due to a lack of insulin.

Chronic stress to the body caused by sleepless nights can result in higher levels of blood sugar (glucose) in the blood. Through urination, the kidneys attempt to remove the elevated blood glucose levels from the body. 

You may have elevated blood sugars if you wake up frequently at night to use the bathroom and use it frequently throughout the day. The amount of thirst you experience may also increase throughout the day. All classic symptoms of prediabetes/high blood sugar include frequent urination, thirst, blurring vision, and fatigue. 

There is good news here: prediabetes can be reversed by making appropriate dietary and health changes. Quality sleep is an important part of the health equation!

Other Ways to Find a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be limited to dietary changes. There are numerous other practices that you can implement to help you sleep better. Listed below are a few nonfood strategies that you can implement in addition to your nutritional changes. 

In terms of sleep, what is effective for one person might not be effective for someone else, but any of these practices can be beneficial to anyone.

One thing that all of the recommendations in this section share is that they are stress reducers. You may find that stress is the primary cause of your sleepless nights; try incorporating at least one or two of these techniques into your daily routine!

Exercise

Getting in shape or maintaining a healthy weight is not the only benefit of physical activity. This is essential for a healthy mental state, for managing stress, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and for maintaining adequate energy levels during the day. 

Personally, I have noticed that my sleeping patterns begin to suffer if I do not exercise regularly. Just the thought of being more active is enough to motivate me!

A 2011 study in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity found that men and women ages eighteen through eighty-five who did 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week had a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. 

During the day, they felt less tired as well. For example, if you think of 150 minutes per week as 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day, five days a week, then that’s 500 minutes. Exercise 75 minutes a week if you lack time during the week. Increase the intensity of your workouts if you’re short on time.

Meditation

Meditation may conjure up images of monks living in far-off monasteries, or perhaps it seems like a practice that is beyond your reach unless you have an hour to devote to it, but meditation is something we can do any time. 

Meditation simply involves reflection or hitting the pause button on your day to focus on your breath, which can be both revitalizing and calming at the same time. By bringing awareness to the breath, anxiety can be reduced and racing thoughts can be stopped.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Rather than getting out of bed to make the most of the time remaining before the alarm goes off, you try to fall back asleep until the alarm sets off. When you’re lying in bed, perhaps under the covers, your mind begins to think about all of the things you have to do for the day, while also stressing over the fact that the alarm is only a couple of minutes away. 

Sleeping fast won’t be possible if you’re in this anxious state. Try meditating instead if you’re waking up more than an hour before your alarm goes off. You might find this easy to say rather than do, but if you practice, it can be accomplished, and you can sleep peacefully again. 

Having been in this position many times before, I make it a point to focus exclusively on my breath when I recognize my racing thoughts. Once I’m asleep again, I usually wake up to the alarm. 

It is best if this method does not work for you to get up and do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy again, such as reading a book or the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle.

There are a number of apps that are available that can remind you to meditate during the day or near bedtime, and some of them even guide you through the process. It is a great routine to implement before hitting the bed to calm the mind and clear the head.

Writing and Journaling

I use a notepad to write down my thoughts when my to-do list is dancing through my head at night. In the beginning, this may seem like a stress-inducing strategy, but, after putting everything down on paper, I find it helps me move past the racing thoughts and set them aside for the next day. 

As long as I’ve got them in writing, I won’t worry about forgetting anything! As a result, I am able to get a good night of sleep, then wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my list.

If you’re trying to relax before bed, you may find it helpful to write about what happened during the day in a journal. Journaling is a powerful tool, and it’s a good way to reflect on the positive things that may have happened during the day.

As a journaling process, it’s important to record your sleep behaviours, so if you find maintaining a diary is hindering more than helping, choose another method!

Reading Before Bed

A relaxing way to end the day is to curl up in bed with a book. You can enter a different world, even for just a few minutes, and escape from all the other things that may have happened.

Like me, if you like to read at night, you’ll definitely fall asleep quickly! While drifting off to sleep, a friend told me she enjoys listening to audiobooks. She admits she doesn’t usually retain much about the book, so she typically begins in the same place over and over again, but it’s an effective technique for helping her fall asleep quickly.

To avoid disrupting your body’s natural circadian rhythm, use the blue light filters when reading at night on a device; otherwise, you might counteract the potential benefits.

A suitable dose of Cannabidiol

As a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant, cannabidiol—or CBD—has been used medicinally for centuries as a sleep aid, pain and anxiety reliever, and nausea reducer. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound often associated with marijuana, is different from CBD. 

With a safe dose of CBD products, you won’t feel euphoric or be concerned with paranoia or racing heartbeats as THC does. CBD can be purchased legally everywhere, in tinctures, tablets, and sprays. Any new supplement or medication should be discussed with your physician first. Be sure to purchase CBD products from a reputable source as well.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using aromatic plant extracts for therapeutic purposes. The calming scent of lavender is a commonly used scent in aromatherapy, and whether you choose to use lavender essential oil, lotion, linen spray, or a lavender-infused bath soak, the plant’s soothing fragrance can help you get more Zzzs. 

Since medieval times, this flower has been used for medicinal purposes as a sedative, an antidepressant, and to reduce anxiety.

Diffusers with essential oils have become very popular in recent years and are great to use in the bedroom to produce a tranquil, spa-like atmosphere. Before you climb into bed, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a diffuser and allow your mind and body to relax. 

Roman chamomile and neroli oil are two other essential oils that have been used along with lavender in aromatherapy for their calming qualities.

Relaxing nightly routines that include aromatherapy can help the body and mind get accustomed to what they should be doing at that time-winding down in preparation for sleep!

Set Realistic Goals

It’s not realistic to sleep like a baby every night – even babies wake up in the middle of the night for a variety of reasons. A realistic expectation would be that most nights of the week, you can expect to get 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep, with several less than ideal nights. 

It’s just part of life, isn’t it? When you wake up in the middle of the night in a semi-awake state, it’s normal to turn over, but if you’re constantly unable to fall asleep again after lying awake for 20 minutes, it’s time to make a change. 

This guide will help you to see how food choices may be interfering with your shut-eye, but it’s also helpful to keep the previous nonfood approaches in mind as well as set out on your path toward peaceful sleep.

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