Getting enough sleep at night is probably the last thing on your mind between work, driving kids to activities, appointments, etc. How do we fit it all in, in one single day? We are constantly burning the candle at both ends, but I’m here to convince you that sleep should be a priority along with nutrition to optimize how well you function day to day. Sleep deprivation affects everything from our immune system, heart, brain, weight, and performance.
Less than 5 hours of sleep at night leads to 50% higher risk for weight gain. Sleep affects our hormones. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is increased. While leptin, the appetite suppressing hormone is decreased. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also increases. These hormone changes create the perfect storm for overall higher calorie intake. Results have shown that overall short sleep duration (3 h 45 min to 5 h 30 min sleep per night) results in increased energy intake of 385 kcal per day.
Not only do we eat more when we are sleep deprived, but more importantly, our diet quality is poor. When we are sleep deficient, we have increased cravings for sweet, salty, and starchy foods. (5-6) Short sleep has also been associated with more snacking and eating out, less variety in the diet, a greater likelihood of missing breakfast and consuming fewer main meals, lower intake of fruits and vegetables, lower intake of fiber, increasing intake of energy in the evening, and irregular eating patterns.
Excessive sleep (greater than 9 hours) is also associated with poorer health and diet quality. The sweet spot for adults is 7-9 hours of sleep per night according to the National Sleep Foundation. While sleep duration is essential, sleep quality is equally important. The food and beverage choices we make can greatly impact both.
Tips to Improve Sleep with Nutrition
Raise your hand if you have ever heard words like “eating past 6 pm will cause you to gain weight”. I have patients all the time that have food rules on avoiding eating past a certain time of night. Good news! Your body is not a Cinderella movie. All the food you eat past a certain time will not magically turn to fat. But if you need a snack before bedtime (and you might if you skipped meals during the day), there are some things to consider. Choose complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal or whole-wheat toast, which digest easily. Try pairing them with a lean protein such as peanut butter, greek yogurt, and nuts/seeds. Limit eating and drinking to small quantities before bedtime. One food that I incorporate into my bedtime routine is tart cherry juice. It naturally contains tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin.
Did you know that creating a consistent mealtime schedule can improve the quality of your sleep?
The National Sleep Foundation’s 2022 sleep in America Poll found a correlation between consistent mealtime, better sleep, and (bonus) reduced stress. Your body runs on a natural sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. Your appetite and metabolism are an important part of your circadian rhythm. I recommended eating every 4 hours, starting with breakfast. Making breakfast part of your regular schedule helps jumpstart your day and lets your body know it’s time to be awake.
Other tips to build better sleep habits:
• Go to bed the same time each night and wake up the same time every morning—even on the weekends.
• Avoid exercising late at night
• Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine after noon. These substances stimulate the nervous system, interfering with falling asleep and staying asleep by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels.
• Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist alternatives to medicines that interfere with sleep.
• Get 30 minutes of sunlight exposure, preferably in the morning hours, most days of the week. (through a window does not count, get outside to enjoy the sunshine!)
• Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
• Avoid watching TV or sitting in front of a computer for at least one hour before bedtime. Blue light blocking glasses can help!
• Don’t lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing such as reading a book until you feel sleepy again.
Spiegel K, Leproult R, L’Hermite-Balériaux M, et al. (2004) Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 89, 5762–5771.
Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, et al. (2004) Short Sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med 1, e62.
Broussard JL, Kilkus JM, Delebecque F, et al. (2016) Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction. Obesity 24, 132–138.
Al Khatib HK, Harding SV, Darzi J, et al. (2017) The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr 71, 614–624.
Rihm JS, Menz MM, Schultz H, et al. (2019) Sleep deprivation selectively upregulates an amygdala-hypothalamic circuit involved in food reward. J Neurosci 39, 888–899.
66. St-Onge M-P, Wolfe S, Sy M, et al. (2014) Sleep restriction increases the neuronal response to unhealthy food in normal-weight individuals. Int J Obes 38, 411–416.
Dashti HS, Scheer FA, Jacques PF, et al. (2015) Short sleep duration and dietary intake: epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms, and health implications. Adv Nutr 6, 648–659.
Hall WL. The emerging importance of tackling sleep-diet interactions in lifestyle interventions for weight management. Br J Nutr. 2022;128(3):561-568. doi:10.1017/S000711452200160X
Does tart cherry juice promote better sleep? Sleep Foundation. (2023, February 2). Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/tart-cherry-juice
National Sleep Foundation. (2022, November 14). Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://www.thensf.org/
The link between sleep and weight gain - research shows poor sleep quality raises obesity and chronic disease risk. Today's Dietitian. (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060112p48.shtml