How Nutrition, Redox Signaling, and Diet Affect Your Sleep and Health
It turns out that the foods we eat affect our quality of sleep, and not necessarily in a good way. Getting the right amount of sleep (7–8 hours/night) is receiving a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. Poor sleep quality and duration are associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. So, if you aren’t eating as well as you should, it may be affecting your quality of sleep. And if your sleep quality is low-quality, your health might be about to follow.
Not getting enough has some pretty severe side effects, such as:
- Sleepiness impairs attention, alertness, problem-solving, reasoning, and concentration. Lack of sleep is one of the biggest causes of car accidents — it can inhibit reaction time to the same degree as drunk driving.
- Sleep deprivation may increase risk for diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
- Lack of sleep diminishes sex drive.
- Poor sleep quality and sleep disorders are linked to depression.
- Poor sleep affects physical appearance by increasing dark bags under the eyes, and fine wrinkles.
- Increased hunger and weight gain have been linked to lack of sleep.
Sleep and Nutrition
Sleep and food, believe it or not, go hand in hand. Nutrition has a direct impact on quality of sleep. Nutrition also affects insomnia, hypersomnia (which means too much sleep) and sleep apnea. The things people eat during the day have been proven to play a role in how much they toss and turn versus how well they sleep. Some foods promote a better night’s sleep, while others hinder it. Take protein, for example. If a person gets twenty percent of their calories from protein (either plant or animal-based — it doesn’t matter) they have less difficulty falling asleep and maintaining that sleep, and overall their sleep is more restorative.
Foods That Hinder Sleep
Not all foods are created equal . . . unfortunately. Some of the things that taste the best going down do the most harm, and that includes how they affect the sleep cycle.
- Sugar: Consuming sugary foods increases daytime drowsiness. It also makes blood sugar levels spike for a few hours and then drop drastically, which leads to sleep disturbances. People who consume sugary diets have less REM sleep and higher arousal indexes.
- Alcohol: While alcohol may help one fall asleep faster, like sugar it causes a drop in blood sugar, which disrupts the second half of the sleep cycle.
- Lack of Fat: Diets too low in fat (yes, eating healthy fats is important) are linked to daytime drowsiness and nonrestorative sleep.
What to Consume for Healthy Sleep
The key to good health is good sleep, and the key to good sleep is good nutrition. The more variety of foods you eat, the more restorative your sleep will be.
- B vitamins are essential for everything from metabolism, to cellular health, to regulation of melatonin, and melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating the sleep cycle. B1 reduces drowsiness during the day and improves sleep patterns, B9 improves mood and sleep, and B12 influences circadian rhythm. People who suffer from insomnia have been found to consume fewer B vitamins than people without insomnia.
- Vitamin C helps reduce symptoms associated with sleep apnea.
- Consuming foods high in fiber makes it easier to maintain healthy sleep while fighting daytime sleepiness.
- Magnesium and zinc may improve sleep while helping reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Eating a diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats (including fish), eggs and dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans will help ensure you get the nutrients that lead to better nutrition, which in turn will improve sleep.
Other Sleep Factors
Oxidative stress activates neurons that control sleep. Too much oxidative stress may interfere with the sleep cycle and increase sleep apnea. Cellular health can combat the negative effects of oxidative stress. Healthy redox signaling may reduce oxidative stress and help improve sleep. Selenium, a potent antioxidant, also reduces oxidative stress.
The amount of body fat a person has is also linked to good or poor sleep quality. Reducing body fat, especially around the belly, reduces sleep problems like insomnia, restlessness, and sleep apnea.
Life is too long to live miserably. A key component in happiness is feeling good, so eat to sleep well, and sleep well to be healthy. Improve your life by improving your health. Make it a priority to learn about nutrition and sleep in overall health.