According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America 2018 poll, a majority of adults acknowledge the connection between sleep and personal effectiveness (65%). Surprisingly, only 10% prioritize sleep over other aspects of daily living (hobbies/interests, work, exercise). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared insufficient sleep as an under-recognized growing public health concern as the prevalence of poor sleep has increased considerably over the past 30 years. EN investigates how sleep hygiene and nutritional factors can help us rest easy.
Sleep 101: Sleep is an essential component of health. If sleep is cut short, the body is less efficient in performing vital processes including muscle repair, memory consolidation, and the release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Consequently, short sleep duration (<7 hours/night) is associated with higher risk/incidence of cardiovascular issues, cognitive disorders, and metabolic issues. Bottom line: sleep impacts nearly everything.
Sleep Hygiene: Much like personal hygiene, sleep hygiene is adoptable advice intended to promote healthy habits. Sleep hygiene strategies were originally proposed for the clinical treatment of insomnia, but now broadly appeal to the general population struggling with sleep problems. While specific needs vary between individuals, the most common recommendations to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle include:
- Be consistent with a sleep schedule (same time/amount)
- Limit daytime naps (<30 minutes/day)
- Include physical activity early in the day
- Create a restful environment (cool, dark, quiet, with limited screen time)
- Pass on stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) and alcohol close to bedtime
- Avoid heavy/large meals before bed
Sleep and Food: Clinical studies observed that sleep restriction leads to increased energy intake, energy intake from snacks, and intake of energy-dense foods, consequently increasing risk of weight gain. However, less is known about how dietary patterns (meal composition/timing) impact sleep. A 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicated that higher caloric intake 30-60 minutes before sleep negatively impacted sleep patterns in healthy individuals, especially in women. A 2016 study in the same journal reported that greater intakes of saturated fat and lower intakes of fiber were associated with a lighter, less-deep sleep profile. Additionally, increased intake of both sugar and non-fiber carbohydrates were associated with more awakenings during sleep. While the cause-effect relationship isn’t fully clear, diet-based recommendations that limit meal size, reduce sugar and saturated fat while promoting fiber intake may be a useful tool to improve sleep depth and quality.
—Bridget Cassady, PhD, RDN