Have you ever noticed that it’s more challenging to resist the temptation of nutrition-empty junk food when you’re tired? Or maybe how eating sugary foods can cause a more fitful, less restorative snooze? It’s not just your imagination.
There’s a strong connection between sleep and nutrition. Sleep impacts what you eat – and what you eat also affects your sleep. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
The good news? Once you understand the science behind sleep and nutrition, you can rest easy knowing you’re making healthy lifestyle choices.
Poor sleep causes hormone imbalances
When you have energy from a restful night’s sleep, you tend to make wiser, more healthful food choices.
Several studies have investigated why people tend to eat more or make less nutritious choices when tired. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult should receive 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night in order for the body to fully recover and harvest enough energy for the following day. The average American adult sleeps less than 6 hours per night. Lack of sleep has been linked to hormone imbalances of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the fullness hormone).
If you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop, and ghrelin levels increase. You wake up feeling hungry, which can significantly increase the calories you consume. Studies have shown that the effects of this hormonal imbalance have been linked to weight gain.
Cravings are harder to ignore when you’re tired
Increased ghrelin levels don’t just make you feel hungry. They also make you crave unhealthy food choices. Researchers have found that the desire for high-carb, high-calorie fares increased by as much as 45% when ghrelin levels spike.
When you’re sleep-deprived, the first thing you want to reach for is a starchy, sugary, or high-calorie snack. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you are more likely to act on those cravings when you are sleep-deprived than you are when you get plenty of sleep. It’s why you wake up at 3 a.m. and reach for that last slice of pie instead of a handful of carrots.
Healthy choices can help you reset your sleep cycle
If you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, the culprit could be what you’re reaching for while in the kitchen. When you’re low on energy, you tend to settle for the most convenient option to satisfy your hunger, like low-nutrient, high-carb bites that are ready to eat. Diets like this will make you feel irritable and sluggish. A solution to this? Have healthy, low-maintenance options in your refrigerator, like meals from MealMD. Heat up a filling, well-balanced meal rather than a greasy slice of leftover pizza.
In addition to keeping pre-cooked meals readily available, specific foods and habits that can affect your sleep quality. Here are a few tips we share with our clients at MealMD to encourage healthier choices that will leave you feeling energized and refreshed.
- ● Avoid drinking alcohol at night. Alcohol can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply at first, but once it wears off, it can wake you during the critical restorative stages of sleep.
- ● Unplug your electronics 1 hour before bedtime.
- ● Keep a consistent sleep schedule - even on the weekends!
- ● Avoid spicy or overly acidic foods that may cause heartburn or indigestion for 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
- ● Try journaling, meditating, reading, or another relaxing ritual to help you wind down before bed.
- ● Keep moving! Go on a walk and get energized by the natural light.
- ● Drink caffeinated beverages after 12 p.m.
- ● Eat large meals or indulge in heavy snacking 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. This gives your body time to digest before falling asleep.
At MealMD, we create satisfying, nutritious meals packed with all of the ingredients you need to fuel your body and help you enjoy a more restful sleep. We can help you reset your sleep cycle and curb your cravings with nutritious meals and education to help you learn how to make healthier choices for life.