How a Good Night’s Sleep Can Help You Eat Better and Eating Better Can Help You Sleep
Spend a night tossing, turning, and staring into the darkness and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the next day you find yourself in line at the drive-thru loading up on doughnuts, diet sodas, and burgers. And when night rolls around again, you’re likely to be once more counting cracks in the ceiling during the wee hours.
Eating and sleeping have a tight relationship. It’s easy to understand how a proper diet can lead to a good night’s sleep. Less obvious but equally important is the effect a restful night has on the ability to make healthy food choices.
Poor sleep leads to low energy, which kills willpower and reduces inhibitions. When we’re tired, it’s easy to think that food will give us back the pep we’re missing, and our bodies compensate by igniting cravings for the most efficient source of energy—highly refined carbohydrates, aka sugar.
A few of the benefits of getting a solid eight hours of shut-eye include:
- Reduced cravings for unhealthy foods
It’s difficult to maintain your willpower when you can barely keep your eyes open. The amount of sleep you get has a direct impact on the part of the brain in charge of making rational decisions. When you get a full eight hours of sleep, you’re more likely to make the right choices in regard to food.
- Feeling fuller, longer
One of the many benefits of a good night’s sleep is that it helps maintain your hormonal balance. When you’re well rested, leptin, the hormone responsible for making you feel full, can do its job, and ghrelin, the appetite-inducing hormone, is less likely to spike unnecessarily.
- Burn calories more efficiently
Getting the right amount of sleep supports a healthy metabolism, which helps burn calories at an appropriate rate. A lack of sleep may make bodies more resistant to insulin, which can be a risk factor for obesity and diabetes.
To make sure you get a good night’s rest:
1. Keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule. That means no sleeping in on the weekends or staying up late when you have to get up early for work the next morning. Try using a sleep app to help you set a consistent bedtime and prompt you when it's time to start winding down for bed.
2. Turn down the heat. Research has shown that cooler temperatures—ideally between 60°F and 67°F—promote better sleep. Cool temperatures may also stimulate what’s known as brown fat, which burns more calories than white fat and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
3. Soak up some sun. Exposure to daylight early in the morning can help calibrate your circadian rhythm and regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
4. Get to the gym. Regular workouts can reduce stress, which can help you fall asleep at night. Mornings are generally considered the best time to work out; exercising less than three hours before bedtime may interfere with some people's sleep.
5. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Every single biological process, including hormone balance and body-temperature regulation, benefits from proper hydration. Keep a water bottle close at hand during the day and drink from it often. You’ll be less likely to snore, reduce the chance of leg cramps, and have more energy the next day.
6. Unplug. Turn off your computer, shut down your phone, and table your tablet at least two hours before going to bed. The light from these devices can interfere with the release of melatonin, keeping you alert when you should be sawing logs.
Artwork by Ekström Design