If you haven’t already read “Lights Out” by T.S. Wiley and Bent Fromby, then I urge you to do so, as it very good at critically reviewing and analysing why sleep is so important and especially in regard to obesity and other mortality risk factors.
Many people do not know or perhaps recognise the importance of getting enough sleep. Parents are generally good at giving their kids, up until they are teenagers, a certain bedtime but from the teenage years it usually starts going down- hill.
Sleep has a major impact on our lives in more than one aspect. Sleep can increase our energy, improve our memory, decrease our risk of obesity by reducing our appetite, stabilising our hormones, and improving our performance.
Yet, we still seem to forget the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and instead we end up with late nights infront of the television and/or the computer (and yes, I’m a sinner of that as well)
Feast – Famine
In evolutionary times people used to sleep in caves and therefore adapted their sleeping patterns and food intake to fit in with their habitat, meaning; wake up at sunrise to go hunting, and go to sleep at sunset owing to the lack of light and dangers. In addition, due to the lack of food there was available during the winter (famine) the body would need to eat lots of food (carbohydrate feast) in the summer in order to build up the fat storage for the winter where the body would not get the required energy from food.
Our bodies have therefore become conditioned and still want to protect us from famine. However, the majority of people in especially the Western World do not experience famine anymore, but on the contrary act as if it was a never ending feast. In addition we now have artificial lighting, which means that we do not sleep according to the sunlight/time of the year, but instead when it is convenient to us. Also, we don’t have to go hunting for our food anymore and with the increase in technology we don’t actually need to move around much at all. This therefore results in a decrease in energy expenditure which again can lead to overweight/obesity and other lifestyle diseases. Last but not least, we also have an abundance of processed and high carb/sugar foods available 24/7 which also doesn’t benefit our sleep, waist line and overall health.
- Carbohydrate cravings as a result of the “perennial adaptation” also known as a constant intent to hibernate = obesity.
- A hormonal imbalance between serotonin and melatonin levels = poor sleep = low melatonin levels = obesity.
- Lights on/ lack of sleep/ stress / high cortisol = endothelia cell death = heart disease
How much sleep do we need?
Factors such as age, time of the year, lifestyle and health all come in to play when talking about the amount of sleep we need. However, on average most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but some people might require more. Especially children that are still growing typically require 9+ hours due to the body being under constant stress.
Is there a connection between sleep and nutrition?
Yes, absolutely. Research suggests that sleep and nutrition do affect each other and that particular magnesium is important for sleep due to it being a mineral that relaxes the muscles and calms the nerves down. This will in turn help people fall asleep, so if you have problems sleeping, try eating foods high in magnesium for dinner.
Also, another way that nutrition and sleep can affect each other is in some instances overeating, which can lead to obesity and in turn lead to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterised by abnormal pauses in breathing which typically results in daytime fatigue, a slower reaction time, and vision problems.
In addition, research has found that when we sleep poorly, we feel hungrier and tend to eat more. Therefore, getting good sleep will reduce our appetite and increase our energy.
5 ways to improve your sleep:
- Perform regular physical activity, but avoid intense work outs within 3-4 hours of your bedtime
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake as these substances are known to disrupt our sleep
- Set a fixed time for going to bed and waking up each day
- Sleep in a quiet, dark and cool bedroom
- Avoid spending time in the bedroom for other purposes than sleep
Sleep well and stay healthy