Sleep and nutrition are incredibly important to overall health and wellbeing. They’re also very closely related. Did you know a lack of sleep can lead to overeating and increase your desire for unhealthy foods? In turn, unhealthy foods can affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep – especially when eaten right before bedtime. If you feel like you’ve tried EVERYTHING for better sleep, then read on…

Many studies have been conducted on how sleep and nutrition affect one another, and in this article, we’ll be examining just how closely interlinked they are. With some insights from Westfield Health, we’ll cover the cyclical relationship between the two, the effects on your physical and mental health, and some ways you can lead a healthier lifestyle. 

Sleep deprivation and appetite

Sleep deprivation is a huge issue in the UK. According to Mental Health UK, almost 1 in 5 people regularly get less than enough sleep. There are several well-known negative impacts of sleep deprivation, including feeling irritable and unable to focus or regulate emotions. Over time it can also increase the risk of high blood pressure and certain diseases, like diabetes. 

When it comes to your appetite, several past studies have found connections between a lack of sleep and overeating. When you don’t get enough good quality sleep, it can trigger increased production of the hormones that regulate your appetite. This can increase your hunger levels or affect your ability to know when you’re full.

This can further develop into a vicious cycle, such as overeating, disrupting usual sleeping patterns and triggering those hormones. In the long term, it can make losing weight more difficult and contribute to obesity. 

Does a lack of sleep make us crave unhealthy food?

Besides generally increasing your appetite, sleep deprivation can increase the desire for high-calorie food or make you more likely to snack during the day.

Research is ongoing, but some studies have found that sleep deprivation can alter motivation and reward drivers. Or in other words, a lack of sleep can make unhealthy or ‘comfort’ foods more appealing beforehand and more satiating after you’ve eaten. 

Do certain foods or drinks keep us up at night?

Eating foods high in sugar close to bedtime can be overstimulating – giving you energy when you should be getting ready to sleep. One 2016 study discovered that people who had high-sugar diets tended to sleep less deeply and were more likely to suffer from restlessness and waking up at night.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, large meals and foods high in protein can also keep you awake if eaten right before bed. When we’re asleep, our body’s digestion process slows down, so eating foods that take longer to digest can leave you feeling uncomfortably full and struggling to stay asleep.

Caffeine is also a common culprit in keeping you awake at night. Caffeine’s stimulative properties are well-known, and its effects can last six hours or longer. This can affect your internal body clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep, reducing the overall quality of your sleep and thus increasing the feeling of tiredness during the day. 

Alcohol and nicotine can also have a similar effect to caffeine, lowering the quality of your sleep when consumed close to bedtime. 

Can good nutrition help us sleep better?

In short, yes. Nutrition can affect nearly all areas of our health, both physical and mental. Good nutrition can reduce the risk of various diseases, and according to a study by the British Medical Journal, a good diet can also have a positive impact on our mental health. Similarly, good nutritional habits can help you sleep better at night. 

It’s best to avoid eating close to bedtime where you can, still, if you need a snack, try sticking to foods that your body can digest more easily. These can be oats, whole wheat bread and other complex carbohydrates. Foods that are high in key nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E, can make it easier to sleep. Tryptophan-rich foods, such as bananas, nuts, and cranberries, can help with the production of melatonin – the hormone that helps you regulate your sleep cycle. 

When it comes to caffeine, you don’t need to give up tea and coffee entirely to keep the negative effects at bay – try to moderate how much you’re consuming. It’s recommended by the NHS that you stop drinking caffeine in the afternoon at least 6 hours before bedtime – try switching to decaf alternatives instead. It’s not always obvious what may contain caffeine, so it’s worth checking the labels of things like chocolate and fizzy drinks beforehand.

Just like a poor diet and poor sleep can negatively affect one another and lead to a repetitive cycle, so can a good diet and good sleep. Some health cash plan policies include wellbeing and alternative therapies cover, which include cover for nutritional therapies. 

There are small changes you can make in your bedtime routine that can help, such as avoiding caffeine where you can, not going to sleep on a full stomach or only eating certain foods in the evening. It can be difficult with a busy or stressful lifestyle, but it is possible to escape the cycle of sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating habits.

READ MORE: Foods & Recipes To Help You Sleep