We think of a nutritious diet and exercise as healthy behavior, but sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. Why is this? Sleep sets the stage for our days. When we sleep deeply and soundly for seven to eight hours, we get up energized in the morning. Diet, exercise and sleep work synergistically and influence each other. All three can affect our daily wellbeing and longevity.
In order to be healthy and vital and to prevent certain diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and many other diseases, we need to make sleep a priority. By making sleep a priority, we can improve our food choices and eat mindfully by listening to our true appetites.
Sleep affects our eating habits and our eating habits affect our sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, according to the CDC, only one in three adults meets these guidelines. At the same time, people have problems with sleep, they also have problems with their weight and with choosing healthy foods. A research study showed that subjects who only slept for four hours ate 300 more calories per day than subjects who had nine hours of rest.
When we are deprived of sleep, the hormones that affect appetite and abundance are disrupted. Ghrelin increases our appetite and leptin plays an important role in making us feel full. When we don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin increases and leptin decreases. The researchers looked at 495 women’s sleep patterns, their daily amount of food, and the quality of food. They found that poor sleep quality correlated with higher food intake and lower nutritional quality.
What should we eat to sleep well?
According to one study, the correlation between sleep duration (monitored by a wrist-worn actigraphy device) and symptoms of insomnia (measured using a self-reported questionnaire) with following a Mediterranean diet (self-reported using a food frequency questionnaire) was investigated. The results suggest that a Mediterranean diet was associated with adequate sleep time and fewer symptoms of insomnia.
The Mediterranean diet includes fresh whole foods and lots of fruit, vegetables, bread and other grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds, olive oil as the primary source of fat, and dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry in small to moderate amounts. Red meat is limited and processed foods are avoided. Wine is consumed in moderation. However, drinking alcohol just before bed is not a good idea as it can disrupt sleep.
What About The Mediterranean Diet That Could Affect Sleep?
Certain key foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet are high in melatonin, serotonin, and vitamin D. Preliminary research suggests that certain foods like milk, oily fish, spicy cherry juice, and kiwi fruit can improve sleep. All of these foods could fit into a Mediterranean diet.
Little is known about the mechanisms by which these foods can improve sleep. Like salmon, oily fish is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Both nutrients are known to help regulate serotonin and could prove important during sleep. Tart cherries have high levels of melatonin, and studies have shown that drinking spicy cherry juice can increase levels of melatonin in your urine (but be careful with the sugar content of spicy cherry juice when trying to lose weight). It is believed that kiwifruit may help you sleep due to their high antioxidant content, as well as their serotonin and folate content. All of these are mere theories at this point, and more rigorous research needs to be done before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the effects of any particular food on sleep.
- Lack of sleep can lead to us eating more and choosing less healthy foods.
- The Mediterranean diet may not only be healthy for the heart and brain, but also for sleep.
- Certain important foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet are high in melatonin, serotonin, and vitamin D, and these foods can improve sleep.
- More research is needed to fully determine the correlation between a particular diet, certain nutrients, and sleep.