So, you may be asking why the heck I’m talking about sleep on my blog. I mean, how does that relate to nutrition? Not only does it have an effect on our nutrition/metabolism, but it’s an important health behavior to discuss in relation to our overall wellness. There are so many factors that influence our health, not only diet + exercise. So, in addition to stress, our topic from last week, it’s important that we touch on sleep as well! Let’s dive into why it’s important + how we can tweak our habits to work towards a restful night!
Why do we sleep?
In theory, sleep sounds like a pretty easy concept, right? You get tired, so you curl into bed, count some sheep, + you’re out. But it’s not that easy for everyone. Nor is it as simple as just “resting” your body after a long day. Your body is actually hard at work during your snooze!
Despite sleep appearing to be a passive process, since we don’t look like we’re “doing anything,” it’s actually a very active process. While some brain functions slow down during sleep, it’s important to remember that some of the most crucial functions such as our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. are still going on. In addition, our body is performing restorative functions throughout the night.
We have two major types of sleep: REM, rapid eye movement, + NREM, non-rapid eye movement. As the name would suggest, during REM, your eyes are moving very quickly under your eyelids whereas in NREM, they are not. REM sleep is crucial to mental + physical health, however, research still isn’t completely clear on its mechanisms. It has been theorized that REM sleep helps us analyze the events of our day, process emotions, store memories, + enhance learning. REM sleep is also the point in which much of our dreaming takes place.
REM sleep occurs approximately every 90 minutes when we’re asleep, however, at first, it only occurs for about 10 minutes before we cycle through NREM sleep again. After the next 90 minutes pass, we will have a bit longer REM period, maybe 20 minutes or so. Our REM sleep period continues to increase after each cycle. This is why it is crucial for us to have enough hours of uninterrupted sleep to maximize time spent in REM.
What happens if we don’t get enough?
We all know babies need lots of sleep, some where around the 16 hour mark. As we age, we gradually need less as we transition through major life stages. As adults, it is recommended to get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, as teenagers experiencing puberty, they require up to 10 hours a night!
Without adequate sleep, our emotion regulation suffers causing us to feel irritable, depressed, anxious, sluggish, and all-around cranky. On top of that, our reaction time slows + we have a tougher time learning/retaining information. [I knew it was a good idea to skip those all-nighters! 😉] Lack of sleep is also correlated with high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, mood disorders, and diabetes. Overall, sleep deprivation = less than optimal functioning.
When it comes to food, we often see an increased appetite, typically for carbohydrate-rich foods, on days in which we got inadequate sleep the night before. Research theorizes that the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite + energy expenditure, experiences changes with sleep deprivation causes these shifts.
Sleep deprivation is also a form of stress, which increases cortisol, a stress hormone. As I’ve mentioned before, exercise is a physical stressor on our bodies. While our bodies can tolerate that stress to a point, exercise on top of sleep deprivation and/or additional stressors is a bad combination. So if you’ve had a crummy night’s rest, don’t go pushing yourself to wake up extra early to squeeze a workout in — or even exercise later that day. Your body needs rest to help reduce our allostatic loads [aka the sum of all of our stressors], rather than more physical activity [aka another stressor.]
Tips for sleep hygiene
Everyone is unique in what works for them, but here are a few tips that might help your get a better night’s rest! I also want to note that sleep disorders + conditions that may affect your quality of sleep exist, so if you continue to struggle in this area, have a discussion with your doctor.
Look out for caffeine
Y’all I sure do love my coffee, so this one is a struggle for me! While some people may be more/less sensitive to the effects of caffeine, the recommendation is to decrease our intake about 8 hours before bed. So if I’m heading to bed at 10pm, I should probably stop drinking coffee by 2pm. Don’t forget that tea, soda, + chocolate also contain caffeine!
Alcohol ≠ sleep aid
I know some people find that wine helps make them extra drowsy + ready for the zzz’s, however, alcohol actually impairs the quality of our sleep! We end up with less time spent in REM sleep + we are more likely to wake up throughout the night — often to use the bathroom since alcohol is a diuretic!
Some people find they sleep better with a fuller belly whereas others find it keeps them up. For example, if you struggle with acid reflux, laying down for bed soon after a meal may worsen those symptoms. In that case, you may need to play around with the timing of your dinner and/or evening snack so it doesn’t hinder your bedtime! However, waking up at 3am with a grumbling belly is no fun, so if you need a bedtime snack, go for it!
Also, it’s important to note that “eating before bed” or “eating after X time” does not make you gain weight. There’s nothing special about those times, and as I mentioned before, your body doesn’t stop functioning overnight. It still utilizes the energy from our food to carry out bodily processes.
While exercise may leave us tired immediately afterwards, moving our body too close to bed time can cause restlessness + make it more difficult to fall asleep. Try to have at least 2 hours between a workout + your bed time if you find yourself struggling to get some shut eye.
Create a relaxing routine
Having a regular routine before bed can help us get in the mood to snooze! Maybe that’s drinking a hot cup of [decaf] tea, reading a book, diffusing essential oils, listening to calm music, journaling, meditation, prayer, setting a white noise machine, etc.
Adjust your thermostat
Our body temperature shifts during the night + typically prefers a cooler environment, around 60-67°F. I have definitely found this to be true for me as I would much rather it be cold so I can snuggle up with lots of blankets!
Turn off the screens
The general goal is to put all screens [phones, TVs, iPad, computers, etc.] away about an hour before you plan to hit the hay. I know this is tough, so you can at least help yourself out by setting those screens to a “nighttime mode” which emits less blue light to help decrease some stimulating effects. And go ahead and schedule a “do not disturb” mode so silly texts from friends don’t disturb your slumber either!
Hey y’all! Welcome to week 4 the Abundantly Enough blog post series! Over the course of 6 weeks, Amy Hanneke of Satisfy Nutrition + I will be releasing individual blog posts covering the same topic in order to give multiple perspectives + interpretations to best meet you where you’re at! This series works to cover some of the basics of developing a healthier relationship with food + your body. In addition, we have launched a community over on Facebook where we can continue to connect + answer any questions y’all may have! We hope to see you there! To check out all of the posts in this series, head on over to the AE page here.