For a correct development of life, to alternate activity, rest and sleep periods during the day is basic and essential to ensure a proper body function because our brain can stay awake and active if it has also enough time to regenerate and be restored, what occurs during sleeping time.
According to experts, if we do not sleep enough hours (may vary from 6 to 8 depending on the individual characteristics of each person) or our sleep is not restful, besides vitality and energy deficiencies and the inability to perform physical and intellectually, this sleep insufficiency or poor sleep quality can lead to negative consequences for our health such as stress occurrence or its aggravation if it already exists, blood pressure increase, glucose tolerance decrease and, for this reason, the possibility of developing metabolic syndrome or diabetes, as well as promoting obesity.
Several recent comparative studies show that people with sleep periods of five hours or less often take more rich in fats and sugars foods (and eat late at night) than those with normal sleep periods (7 to 8 hours). Similarly, those who do not get enough sleep are prone to eat during the night more calories than they expend during waking hours, a fact that, obviously, involves a weight gain. Moreover, these studies (which have also analyzed the sleep quality) demonstrate that certain situations, such as sleep apnea, can alter our metabolism and make weight loss difficult. In fact, this disordered breathing that occurs during sleeping time is usually more common in overweight or obese people.
Dietary habits involved in the quantity and quality of sleep
It is good to know which factors can determine the total sleeping time and influence in its depth and quality. Such is the case, for example, of the environment (prepare to sleep in a quiet and friendly atmosphere will promote the sleep onset). Depressive states (mainly anxiety or emotional stress) tend to greatly reduce the ability to sleep. Also, smokers should know that tobacco has many very negative effects on sleep because nicotine is considered a stimulant drug that interferes in sleep quality. Similarly, a poor or inadequate diet can cause us insomnia and sleep disturbances. I will show you why:
Eating unbalanced way can affect our sleep, but also a sleep of poor quality may cause an alteration in our good eating habits. It is appropriate, therefore, to know which are the dietary habits with worse consequences on sleep:
- Uncontrolled schedule. Stress and anxiety situations alter heart rate and distortive sleep-wake cycle. The lack of times control and meals order directly interferes in our sleep quality.
- Abundant intakes for dinner. Eating copious manner, abusing spices, proteins or fats (meats, fatty cheese, fried and spicy sauces) causes the increase of hydrochloric acid secretion, which main consequences are heartburn, nausea and even vomiting. A hearty meal will probably cause reflux of gastric juices and will hinder our sleep. Similarly, it is advisable to have dinner at least one hour and a half or two hours before bedtime, so we’ve digested properly and nothing could hinder or interrupt our sleep. We should also avoid taking too much protein foods in the last meal of the day. Proteins reduce the synthesis of serotonin and increase the production of adrenaline, a fact that leads to the emergence of the state of alert. Must not opt for spicy dishes for dinner, as the body temperature increases and hinders the ability to sleep.
- Diuresis. For a restful sleep is essential not to do many interruptions during the night. If you usually get up to urinate several times, should control the amount of water you drink at dinner, as well as foods that promote diuresis (asparagus, celery, onion, watermelon or melon).
- Exciting foods. Coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa and guarana, among others, are stimulating foods of nerve connections, which creates a state of alert or euphoria for a limited time. A moderate intake of them during the day does not necessarily affect the quality of our sleep, but in high and regular doses, and if we take them three or four hours before going to bed, our dream can be quite affected.
Similarly, numerous studies prove how certain substances in foods can act as chemical messengers between neurons and hormones related to the sleep cycle. Here are some of them:
- Tryptophan. It’s an essential amino acid, ie, which can not be synthesized by the body and can only be obtained through the diet. It is essential for the formation of serotonin (a brain neurotransmitter) and useful in cases of obesity with a quite pronounced anxiety component (bulimia, for example). In these situations, this amino acid helps serotonin to control the appetite, avoiding food cravings. Tryptophan sources are eggs, milk, bananas, whole grains, beans, peanuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, meat and fish, as well as certain algae as spirulina. However, we must remember that our body will metabolize tryptophan if the levels of magnesium and vitamin B6 are adequate.
- Magnesium. It’s a natural tranquilizer capable of maintaining the balance between neurons and it acts on nerve transmission. Thanks to magnesium, the nervous system is maintained in a good state of health, so it is highly recommended is cases of stress or depression. It is also considered as a muscle relaxant, so if your intake through the diet is sufficient, you will sleep better and longer. We can found it in abundant quantities in foods such as nuts, whole grains and legumes.
- Vitamin B6. This vitamin participates in the serotonin biosynthesis, increasing the sense of wellbeing in our brain. Their main food sources are dry yeast, wheat germ, liver and kidneys, meats and fish, eggs, legumes, green beans, cauliflower, bananas and whole grains.
- Vitamin B1. This vitamin is essential for the proper nervous system function in general, because its function is to be involved in both: sugars transformation and conduction of nerve impulses process. Can be found in brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, fish, legumes, cereals and whole grains, as well as milk and dairy.
- Carbohydrates. Foods like bread, rice, pasta, cereals, flours and potatoes stimulate insulin secretion, ie, the hormone that promotes the provision of tryptophan to form serotonin. The key is to consume carbohydrates along with high concentrations of tryptophan foods. At dinner time, it is also important not to consume carbohydrates in high quantities in order to avoid producing too much insulin and disrupt sleep once reconciled.
- Calcio. The plasma calcium is able to slow the excitability of nervous and muscular system. It is found mainly in dairy products.
- There are many plants that can help us relaxing naturally. Enjoying a lemon balm, valerian, passionflower or Rooibos tea in the evening or after dinner can help us to have a restful sleep.
- Regular practice of moderate physical exercise promotes relaxation of muscles and secretion of endorphins with sedative effect. It is advisable to do sport at least six hours before going to sleep because, otherwise, our body does not have enough time to relax and ensure adequate rest time. Similarly, if we sleep enough hours (7 or 8) and have a quality dream, we will be helping to improve our athletic performance, as an adequate rest promotes total relaxation of the musculoskeletal system, also allows the energy saving because the basal metabolism decreases, and promotes the cells oxygenation increase as well as growth.
- For dessert, eat an apple!!! This fruit gives us vitamin C, which can help reducing blood pressure, relaxing and breathing properly during sleeping time. As we know, it is also an important source of potassium, a mineral that facilitates the conduction of nerve transmissions that lead to relaxation and sleep. This wonderful fruit also provides vitamin B6, which helps us reducing stress levels and improving our mood. Also, its insoluble fiber may help retaining water in the intestines, so that we won’t need to interrupt our sleep going to the toilet many times during the night.