It’s that time of year already??? Yes, it’s time for Daylight Savings Time! So spring forward those clocks and get ready for the dreaded thought that we all “lose an hour of sleep.” While this time change may temporarily affect our sleeping routine, many of us suffer from poor sleeping habits all year round.
We all know how important sleep is for optimal health but many of our daytime habits may be affecting the quality of our sleep at night. A good night’s sleep usually will make us feel refreshed, energized and ready to take on the day’s activities. I have a really bad habit of starting my day off in a rotten mood if I didn’t sleep well the night before. Adequate sleep restores us mentally, physically and emotionally. This is certainly true for my husband and me. If we get into a tift before bed (usually exaggerated by the fact we are both tired and cranky), we know its best to just sleep on it and discuss things in the morning. We have also learned that sufficient sleep has a great impact on weight management and decreasing the risk for metabolic disorders.
Since its discovery in 1999, the hormone ghrelin has been investigated regarding its roles in appetite and hunger, and it appears that our sleep cycle plays a role in its regulation. An interesting study conducted at the Mayo Clinic showed that when healthy young adults’ sleep patterns were shortened by one third, they consumed more than 500 extra calories when compared to the control group.1 It was also noted that ghrelin levels slightly decreased in the group that consumed more calories. While this research is still in its infancy, it raises the importance of getting adequate amounts of sleep to control weight and possibly appetite.
This doesn’t just apply to adults either. According to Judith Owens, MD, director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., “Insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity, affects academic performance and has implications for safety. Chronic sleep restriction affects the immune system, the developing brain and the cardiovascular system.” Two important components that have been found to influence adolescents’ sleep quality are exercise and screen time. It is suggested that exercise earlier in the day can help promote better sleep patterns at night; however, if the only time you have available to work out is in the evening, then you should continue to do so. Remember, any exercise is better than no exercise. Too much screen time can also negatively influence the quality of sleep. Keep in mind that excessive screen time can also be linked with low physical activity levels. Previously, screen time only involved television, video gaming and computers. Today, screen time includes our tablets and smartphones. I know I am very guilty of spending way too much time on my smartphone!
What types of food should I eat to sleep better? This is a question I hear quite often. Many people try drinking a warm glass of milk before bed. Others associate a big Thanksgiving dinner with turkey as the best way to catch some zzzs. But is there any truth in all this? Can food actually help you fall asleep or improve the quality of one’s sleep? Are there other factors that influence our sleep?
First of all, many foods contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in turkey and coined as a sleep aid. Carbohydrates can make tryptophan more available to the brain and if your family eats like mine on Thanksgiving, then you’re consuming A LOT of carbohydrates. Tryptophan can be found in animal proteins, dairy products, nuts/seeds, beans, bananas, mangos and even chocolate to name a few. It is suggested that bedtime snacks for better snoozing should include a protein (tryptophan source) and carbohydrate source such as an apple with peanut butter.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake. Lack of sleep and caffeine intake can become a vicious cycle. A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish all day leading to higher caffeine/stimulant intakes. Too much caffeine can also disrupt your deep sleep cycle. Since I’ve cut way back on my caffeine intake, I noticed that I sleep much longer and sounder than I have in years!
Another way to fight daytime fatigue with food is to focus on natural foods and limit consumption of processed items. Foods high in salt, unhealthy fats and sugar can leave your body and mind feeling sluggish and dull. Opt for items like berries, apples or nuts as pick-me-up snacks over granola bars, pretzels or sweets.
As you can see, there are several factors in our lives that influence our sleep habits. For more information on sleep problems visit Springfield Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.