October has officially arrived and this means, the end of the year is fast approaching!
For many of us, this can mean busier schedules, more demanding work deadlines and increased social outings. When we try to fit more in, naturally something has got to give and in this case, it’s very commonly our sleep!
Poor sleep quality, too little or too much sleep, not only impacts our energy, mood and overall cognition but it also has wider impacts such as the potential to impact:
- Weight: lack of sleep can reduce leptin levels, our satiety signal, which can cause us to overeat. In addition, when tired we go on the hunt for an instant energy boost, which usually comes in the form of refined sugar and carbs. This means it’s not uncommon to crave sugar and carbs after a poor nights sleep.
- Diet quality – similar to above, its been shown that when habitual short sleepers (5 to <7hour), increase their sleep (by up to 1.5 hours), it may result in a 10 gram reduction in daily sugar intake, again pointing to the fact that short sleep can cause increased sugar cravings and intake! When we feel tired, the motivation to eat well and put effort into cooking or thinking of a healthy meal can also be reduced, leading us to rely on often unhealthy take away foods.
- Immunity – restorative good quality sleep is linked to an improved ability to maintain a strong immune system.
- Metabolic syndrome – which may consist of elevated waist circumference, high triglycerides levels, low high-density cholesterol levels, hypertension and high fasting glucose, both insufficient sleep and also variation in bedtime or length of sleep, can increase someone’s risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Cardiovascular health: new research has just linked short sleep duration with increased risk of having a heart attack.
To help you maintain healthy sleep patterns throughout the lead up to Christmas, here are 5 diet changes to make to help support sleep:
Swipe refined carbs for legumes – legumes are a powerful combo when it comes to sleep because they are both a source of the sleep promoting amino acids, including glycine and fibre. Low intake of fibre has been associated with lighter, less restorative sleep. Men need around 30g fibre per day and women 25g, most of us struggle to meet this requirement, legumes are a very easy (and delicious) way to boost fibre intake!
Swap trans and saturated fats for unsaturated – a high intake of poor quality fats has also been linked to poor sleep. Trans fats, which should be mostly avoided are commonly found in baked goods, processed foods and fried foods, whereas saturated which should be limited are found in meat, dairy and coconut products. When adding fats to meals, think about the type of fat you are consuming and aim to have mostly unsaturated fats including polyunsaturated (fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemps seeds) and monounsaturated fats (avocado, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nuts, almonds)
Swap a big dinner for a big breakfast or lunch – due to busy work schedules or simply not eating well throughout the day and arriving home starving, I see lots of people overeat at night which leads them to go to bed with a full stomach. Understandably this can push bed time out by a few hours due to discomfort and impact ones ability to fall asleep, setting you up for a poor nights sleep! To overcome this, try to regulate eating during the day and taper off as the day gets on. For example, consume a satisfying breakfast, followed by a satisfying lunch, have an afternoon snack to help prevent being too hungry for dinner and finish the day with a light meal.
Swap sweets at snack time for fruit– snack time is a great way to sneak in some fruit, especially if you otherwise struggle to eat it. The reason fruit makes a good sleep-promoting snack is because it is a good source of vitamin C, especially berries, kiwi fruit, papaya and pineapple. What has this got to do with sleep you ask? Low vitamin C intake has been linked with non-restorative sleep so therefore eating a few pieces of fruit daily will help to boost your intake.
Swap late night grazing for a calcium rich pre bed snack – if you are prone to grazing on snacky food late, swap this for a pre bed calcium rich snack around 2-3 hours prior to bed. Calcium works hand in hand with tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone which sets our sleep cycle and causes us to fall asleep and therefore it only makes sense that increased calcium intake is associated with decreased difficulty falling asleep. Research has shown calcium levels in the body are highest during our deepest sleep stages and calcium deficiency has been linked to disturbed REM sleep. Snack ideas include yoghurt with berries, dried figs dipped in tahini, small handful of almonds, small fruit/yoghurt smoothie or made using calcium fortified soy milk.