Is Sleep Deprivation Wrecking Your Healthy Eating Plan? - 24Seven Wellness & Living

Good nutrition is important for health, just like sleep. But sleep may be more important to good nutrition than you realize.

Sleep deprivation tends to lead to poor food choices. Losing sleep causes the body to need more calories, but that doesn’t typically lead to weight loss. Rather, people who are sleep deprived are more likely to overeat. You have less energy to resist cravings for junk food, and at the same time, your brain may crave junk food you don’t need when you’re sleep deprived.

In a recent sleep study, healthy subjects who were sleep deprived felt hungrier and had more difficulty controlling themselves when given unlimited access to junk food including candy, chips, and ice cream. In fact, sleep deprived subjects consumed nearly twice as much fat and protein as the control group. Sleep deprived people are typically vulnerable to cravings for foods high in fat and carbohydrates.

How to Improve Nutrition With Sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep can support you as you make better food choices. Follow these tips to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.

◦Commit to a regular sleep schedule. Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night and day. This can help train your brain and body to get sleepy at the appropriate time. Make sure you’re scheduling enough time to get seven to seven and a half hours of sleep. Typically, you’ll need to leave about eight hours of time for sleep including falling asleep and waking up.

◦Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Like a regular sleep schedule, a consistent bedtime routine can help you feel sleepy when it’s time to get to bed. Go through the same few actions each night before you go to bed, training your brain to recognize that it’s time to wind down. What you do doesn’t matter as much as doing it consistently, but calming activities such as reading a book or taking a bath can be good choices.

◦Be careful about what you eat in the evening. Good nutritional choices throughout the day can support healthy sleep, but there are some foods in particular you should avoid just before bed, as they can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Eating a heavy meal right before you go to bed can shift your body’s focus from sleep to digestion, which can lessen the quality of your sleep. Caffeine, foods high in sugar or fat, and alcohol can make it difficult to sleep well.

◦Avoid vigorous exercise at night. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but be careful not to exercise too late at night, as doing so can leave you feeling too energized to go to sleep. Avoid heavy exercise in the hours before bed. If you need physical activity in the late evening, consider doing yoga or calming stretches instead.

◦Maintain a healthy sleep environment. Where you sleep is just as important as how you sleep. A healthy sleep environment should be dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable. Make sure your mattress is appropriate for your needs, choose temperature-controlling bedding if you wake up sweating or too hot, use a white noise machine to keep your bedroom quiet, use blackout curtains to baffle light and noise, and turn on a fan to keep your bedroom cool at night.

Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.