Did you know that what—and how much—you eat can have a huge impact on how well you sleep?
Well, it does. And more than you think.
Because while you might never have thought about how your nutrition may affect your sleep, it has a bigger impact than most of us realize.
While society may constantly push the idea that eating less is better (and that we should constantly try to lose weight), sometimes eating more is the right answer—not only for your athletic performance, but also for your quality of sleep.
Get to Sleep Naturally
Most of us have had trouble falling asleep as well as staying asleep. After tossing and turning, sometimes even for a few hours, we finally fall asleep. And what often seems like 15 minutes later, the alarm goes off…
We’ve all heard about importance of sleep, yet many of us don’t prioritize it, or start to only when it becomes a real problem.
If you don’t sleep as well as you’d like to, you may have turned to natural supplements, teas, or even sleeping pills to try and sleep better. And although you may have tried a lot of that stuff and found that while some of it worked for a short while, others did nothing.
But relying on sleep medicine isn’t the answer to sleep issues. We should be able to fall asleep and stay asleep naturally, according to our circadian rhythm—and without tricks or pills.
What Happens In the Body When We’re Asleep
Our bodies are set up to do the most important physical repair work between 10pm and 2am.
Recovering from our workouts is a large part of this physical repair work, because that’s the muscle building time. Our muscles don’t grow and strengthen while we’re working out—this happens later, when we’re resting.
Somewhere around 2am and until we wake up is the time our bodies do most of the mental repair work. This is when our brains are processing everything that happened the day before, going over conversations and solving problems.
Energy Demands During Sleep
Although we use the bulk of our energy (a.k.a. food) when we’re awake or while we’re working out, we also burn energy when we’re asleep. The energy is used to make these physical and mental repairs that we just mentioned.
This is where nutrition comes into play. It’s incredibly important eat enough to have enough resources for these repairs. Not eating enough calories may cause restless sleep or waking up often at night.
You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to eat a lot in the evening, because you want to give our digestion a rest, or that skipping a meal at night will help you lose weight easier. But going to bed hungry may mean that you don’t have enough energy to get your body through these physical and mental processes that it needs to take care of. Instead of waking up in the morning rested and ready to kick off the day, you’re groggy and dragging because you didn’t sleep well.
Fluctuation of Stress Hormones
If you haven’t eaten sufficiently during the day, levels of your stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol will peak at different times than when they’re supposed to.
For example, if you haven’t eaten enough, your adrenaline increases when you go to bed or during the first hours of your sleep, and you may have hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. This adrenaline peak often happens around 1-2am, waking you up or keeping you constantly tossing and turning around this time at night.
Cortisol levels should be low when you go to bed, to get you ready for sleep. They should then start rising gradually as the morning is getting closer and wake you up. However, if you haven’t eaten enough during the day, cortisol levels are high already when you go to bed, and they reach their peak much earlier than they’re supposed to. That also means you’re up way earlier than you wanted.
Even if you sleep through the night but have night sweats, nightmares, or just very a restless sleep, these things can simply be caused by not having enough energy in our bodies.
How To Eat For Better Sleep
Many people keep their dinners small because they’ve heard that any food they eat late at night will turn into fat.
For the same reason, they may be afraid of carbs, so they have something small as low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with maybe some berries or nut butter, or a very light salad instead of a proper dinner. These may be okay post dinner snacks, but they aren’t proper meals, especially when you’re physically active.
Remember, what you eat during the day will affect the way you sleep at night.
Make sure that you have a proper meal at night, that is complete with all three macronutrients–carbs, protein and fat. Eat until you’re comfortably full, and forget about all the “food rules” you may have heard about eating at night (like not eating after 6pm or other similar “rules”).
Having a snack before bed may be useful too, because it provides you more energy that is needed to do all the essential repair work we talked about before. Here are some good before bed snack ideas!
Eating Enough = Better Sleep
Good sleep is extremely important for good health, both physical and physiological. What you eat during the day can have a big impact on your sleep.
Don’t skip meals! If you’ve been afraid of eating at night and your sleep is bad, a small snack after dinner or right before bedtime can give you some much needed energy that helps you sleep until morning.
Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, bootcamp instructor and personal trainer located on the East Bay, California. Check out her website here to learn about her take on womens’ health and hormones, balanced and obsession-free living and get her best 30-minute workouts.