Food and Sleep

Here’s what you need to know:

1) What you eat can have a direct effect upon how long you need to sleep

2) Carbs help stimulate the release of serotonin and can be a useful sleep aid

Food and Sleep

Food is important when considering sleep for two primary reasons; food can dictate how long we need to sleep and it can also help stimulate the production of hormones which facilitate sleep.

Dietary inflammation can have a huge impact upon our sleep needs. Sleep is the key means by which the body heals itself and repairs inflammation. New research indicates that the body is highly responsive to levels of inflammation within the body; the higher levels of inflammation are, the more sleep is needed. The particular importance of diet and dietary inflammation in dictating our sleep needs was demonstrated by a recent study which compared a control group of mice to a group given a typical american diet full of inflammatory trans fats and sugars. [1] The amount of time the experimental mice spent sleeping increased significantly. The scientists then severed the vagus nerve of the experimental mice, the nerve which is used for communication between the brain and the gut, and the sleep needs of the mice reduced back to those of the control group.

There are two very important messages which can be taken from this study. The first is that we are able to exercise a surprising amount of influence over our sleep requirements; the amount of sleep we need is not fixed, but is instead a reflection of the amount of inflammation created through our lifestyle. The second point, which follows on from this first, is that what we eat appears to have a direct correlation with how much we need to sleep. Taking this to the extreme bio-hacker Dave Asprey has claimed that by following an ultra-strict anti-inflammatory diet he has been able to survive on well under 6 hours sleep a night for years. Whilst most of us may not be willing to make quite the sacrifices needed for this it is clear that by eating better we not only improve our health but also reduce our need for sleep, giving us more time to do the things we enjoy or be with those we care about.

Food not only helps dictate how much sleep we need, but can also help us fall asleep in the first place. For example, have you ever eaten a big lunch and felt unable to concentrate afterwards? Many people know that carbs can have a soporific effect but rarely do people think about this when considering their food choices. Carbs prompt the brain to make serotonin, which is a “feel good” hormone that has a relaxing effect upon the body. Serotonin is also thought to give you that satisfied feeling from food which helps promote sleep. The blood sugar rise and fall that accompanies carbs also tends to induce lower energy levels and a desire for sleep. This means that a carb rich snack, such as some toast or a bowl of muesli, before bed can harness the power of serotonin to your advantage to help you fall asleep. It is important not to stuff yourself, as this can cause indigestion and hurt sleep quality, but a small snack about an hour before bed may help you relax and unwind. Timing your nutrient intake to aid your body’s natural processes will be a consistent theme in this blog, and this is an example of a really simple change that can help make your sleep more efficient.

So when trying to fine tune your sleep getting your diet really dialed in can be a surprisingly significant factor, and is a nice demonstration of how these synergies work in the body; get your diet right and you’ll find sleep easier, you’ll have higher energy levels and be able to keep working hard and coming back refreshed.

Alex

 

[1] http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/274/1/R168

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