While parts 1 and 2 were about the basics of good nutrition and nutrients vs. calories, and in the 3rd part we were talking about the importance of water, in this 4th part we are going to look at the importance of a good night’s sleep. And if you think that sleep has definitely nothing to do with nutrition or weight loss or hunger, then read on my friend! You are in for a surprise!
4. The Magic of Sleep
Sleep is a magical time, indeed. It is the time that the body uses for restoration, healing and regulating different processes. The body does a lot of work while we are asleep. Sleep is nothing like a ‘power off’ button, it is more like a ‘restart’ and we need to do it regularly in order to function property. But it’s not just our energy reserves that need a restart, it’s also the hormones, including the ones that regulate hunger and satiety.
One of these hormones is Leptin. It regulates your appetite and metabolism. It is responsible for telling your brain when you are full and also for telling it to start burning calories. When there is enough of leptin, it makes your metabolism run smoothly and keeps your appetite low. It is produced during sleep. Any shortage of sleep, even just 15 minutes, leads to disruption in the production of leptin, and too little leptin tricks your body into thinking that you have too little energy, thus you need more food. Too little leptin slows your metabolism and creates a hungry feeling that just doesn’t go away. Some research has shown that people who are overweight sleep less than people of normal body weight.
There’s also another hormone that produces an effect that is opposite to leptin. It is called Ghrelin, and its functions are to tell your brain that you need to eat and to stop burning calories. This hormone normally decreases during sleep, and sadly enough, the lack of sleep disrupts the function of ghrelin. As a result, ghrelin levels do not decrease well enough, and your body craves even more food without burning it off, because it thinks there’s a shortage of energy.
More unfortunate news is that sleep deprivation leads to insulin resistance and increases stress levels – both are factors for developing type 2 diabetes and weight gain. If you have a habit of going to bed late, then you’re also might not be producing enough Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced while we sleep in the dark. Its production is the highest from about 11 pm to 3 am. Melatonin is responsible for the circadian rhythm – your body’s biological clock – and for keeping your immune system strong. It is believed that melatonin deficiency may lead to weakening of the immune system and give way to disease. Adequate melatonin levels are essential in prevention of disease, from infections to cancer.
So how do we prevent all of these? How do we keep our bodies healthy? How do we make sure that the hormones are on our side?
- Aim for 7 to 9 hours of night’s sleep.
- Go to bed before midnight, ideally by 10-11 pm to get the most melatonin. Snoozing in the morning is fine, but melatonin is not produced during the bright hours of the day.
- Limit your evening screen time (TV, computer, tabs and mobile phones) and stop using them completely at least 1 hour before bed. The reason for this is that the screens emit blue light (similar to day light and actually much stronger than the morning light). The blue light interferes with melatonin production and delays it, even if you are already in bed in the dark. Use ‘night time’ mode on your devices in the evening to cut down the blue light emission.
- Do not consume caffeine or alcohol before bedtime as they disrupt the sleep cycles and may keep you awake. Instead have a caffeine-free herbal tea that has a calming effect. Try chamomile or rooibos, if you haven’t yet. Check with your doctor that you are ok to drink herbal teas, especially if suffering from any medical condition!
- For dinner or late snack, eat something that contains Tryptophan. Tryptophan is amino acid that is thought to induce sleep. Turkey is the most famous food rich in tryptophan, but it’s not the only source and not the richest. Pumpkin seeds (+ other nuts and seeds), soya and its derivitives, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, oats, beans and lentils are all rich in tryptophan.
- Exercise regularly, but do not become super active close to your bedtime. Although, some sources say that resistance training before bed does not interfere with your sleep. You could also try bedtime yoga to help unwind and de-stress before sleep. Exercise and energy levels before bed are rather individual, so find your own routine.
- Take a calming bath or a shower before bed to help you relax even further. Keep it warm to not overstimulate yourself.
- If you simply can’t fall asleep, don’t stress. Get out of bed and read a book or do something quiet. For me, arrow words work like a charm.
All of this shouldn’t be hard to do if you develop a system, a routine to follow. By the way, our bodies adapt very well to routines and might even function more efficiently that way. Give it a try and have a heavenly sleep that you long deserve!