Arguably, two of the most important pieces in your overall wellness puzzle are nutrition and sleep. A shortfall in either of these areas can cast a long shadow over your health, which means both warrant close attention. But are the two connected? In many ways, yes, and the links are complex.
To help break them down, Dr. Dana J. Rockey, who leads our team of dental sleep medicine specialists at South County Sleep Solutions and Prescott Sleep Solutions, pulled together the following information.
Why nutrition and sleep are so important
Before we discuss the link between nutrition and your ability to sleep soundly, let’s quickly review why these two areas of your health are so important.
The old adage that, “You are what you eat” is no exaggeration. Each cell in your body relies on the right fuel for optimal function, which means your diet should contain the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs.
Unfortunately, modern diets have become long on calories, but short on nutrients, leading many people into an unhealthy state of being overweight and nutrient deficient.
When it comes to sleep, your body uses this critical time to scan itself, balance hormones, make repairs, and even make memories as your brain sifts through the day’s events. When you’re not getting the right amount of restorative sleep, your health can be affected in myriad ways, from metabolic syndrome to memory loss.
While both nutrition and sleep are critical to your overall health, let’s take a closer look at how one can affect the other.
What you eat can affect your sleep
Studies are ongoing when it comes to nutrition and sleep, but findings to date are illustrating that what you eat can affect your sleep. For example, one study of 1,800 men between the ages of 35 and 80 found that men with a high-fat diet were more likely to report poor sleep and daytime sleepiness, and more likely to have sleep apnea.
Another review of nutrition and sleep studies concluded that most studies support the notion that, “Increasing fruit and vegetable intakes, choosing whole grains (higher in fiber), and favoring vegetable oils (low in saturated fat),” may be able to promote better sleep.
Where the link gets complicated is that poor nutrition and poor sleep can become a vicious cycle. If you’re not getting good restorative sleep at night, daytime fatigue can lead you to make poor nutrition choices, such as sugars and refined carbs for a quick boost in energy.
Of course there are some more obvious connections between nutrition and poor sleep, like drinking caffeinated drinks or too much alcohol before bed, which can lead to fitful sleep. As well, eating spicy foods before bedtime can lead to sleep-interrupting acid reflux.
Your weight can affect your sleep
Another way that nutrition and sleep are connected is if you have an unhealthy diet that’s led to weight gain. Our main concern here is the link between obesity and sleep apnea, which is a potentially dangerous condition in which you're not able to breathe properly while you sleep.
When you eat matters
Aside from eating the right foods, when you eat also matters. Your digestive system slows by 50% while you sleep, so eating hard-to-digest foods before bedtime may not be a good idea.
If you want a late-night snack, it’s important to choose something that’s low in fat and low in protein so your body can digest the food more easily. An apple, whole wheat toast, oatmeal — these are good examples of late-night snacks that won’t potentially keep you up.
The bottom line is that healthy whole-food nutrition is not only good for your health, it can play a role in helping you get the sleep you need.
If you have more questions about the connection between nutrition and sleep, please call us today at 949-558-0554 in Newport Beach, California, or 928-235-6925 in Prescott, Arizona.