The human body requires at least seven hours of sleep with some people needing up to nine full hours for the body to be completely rested. However, stress, anxiety, and the increasing use of technology has many people lying awake long into the night. Yet sleep can be improved through any number of ways, one of which is carefully monitoring diet, not just what’s eaten but when.
The obstacles to good sleep continue to grow. For many, it’s stress and anxiety. A changing political climate, a lost job, or changes in a family situation can be enough to make sleep elusive. And, technology has now entered as the new deterrent on the scene.
The effects of technology start with light, namely blue light. The light that filters through the Earth’s atmosphere from the sun lies on the blue spectrum. The human eye has special photoreceptors that transmit this kind of light directly to the circadian region of the brain, which in turn, controls the sleep cycle. Sunlight suppresses sleep hormones, which makes sense since daytime is when people need to be the most alert.
However, devices like televisions, laptops, and smartphones emit a light that also falls on the blue spectrum. While their light isn’t exactly like sunlight, it’s similar enough to also cause suppression of sleep hormones. Any usage that’s within two to three hours of bedtime can prevent the start of the sleep cycle for several hours.
A delay in the sleep cycle can quickly turn into sleep deprivation, which takes hold anytime someone has gotten less than seven hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation’s effects continue to grow as more sleep is lost.
Lack of sleep also causes an increase in hunger and a decrease in satiety, the consequence of which is usually overeating. The types of foods that the body craves in a state of sleep deprivation also change. High-fat, sweet foods provide an increased reward in the brain during sleep deprivation. So, not only does the body feel hungrier, it wants to be filled with foods that lack nutritional value.
Despite the challenges of getting a good night’s rest, there are ways to promote better and more sleep. One, of which, is to focus on diet.
The brain uses circadian rhythms, biological processes that repeat in a 24-hour cycle, to help time the sleep cycle. Meal timing plays a role in regulating these cycles. Meals eaten at roughly the same time every day and spaced evenly throughout the day help the brain recognize when the sleep cycle should begin.
The composition of those meals also influences how and if the body stays asleep. Diets high in protein decrease the number of night wakings while those high in carbs reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Together, a well-balanced diet that includes both can create a more successful sleep cycle.
When a balanced diet is used in conjunction with good sleep habits, it can solidify sleep patterns and drastically improve health. Start by prepping the sleep area well before bedtime to reduce stress and anxiety. Arrange any necessary medical equipment, medications, and a glass of water nearby just in case. For those who need a late night snack, eat foods with nutrients used to make sleep hormones like milk products, almonds, walnuts, and bananas.
Though sunlight suppresses sleep hormones, it’s also necessary to keep the timing of the sleep cycle on schedule. Be sure to spend plenty of time outside, especially in the morning when the body needs to be at its most alert.
The easiest way to a healthy, consistent sleep cycle is to follow a schedule the brain can predict and maintain. Regular meals with a balance of carbohydrates and proteins can help. And finally, make sleep a priority to make sure adequate sleep is a vital part of every day.