There is no doubt that sleep has changed for most of the world in the last 100 years or so. And even more recently, with even further advances in technology. Today we are way more connected than ever before. It used to be “back in the day” that most people slept based on the rising and setting the sun. But of course, technological advances such as electricity and lighting extended the length of the day and our hours awake each day. And for some people such as those who work overnight, their sleep patterns are far far away from what their body naturally craves. Changes in sleep may influence weight and weight loss as research indicates that there is a definite connection between sleep and weight loss.
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Your body’s natural rhythm and sleep
The body has a natural rhythm that guides and determines how we feel throughout the day. Known as circadian rhythm or our internal clock so to speak. This internal clock is typically guided by lightness (daytime) and darkness (nighttime), and may be slightly different for every person.
These rhythms affect many parts of our lives including our sleep and wake cycles, how our hormones function, our eating habits, the temperature of the body and other important bodily functions. In addition, disturbing this natural rhythm is disruptive to our sleep and may diminish the quality of our sleep. Since sleep and weight loss are connected, this disruption to your sleep may also lead to chronic health conditions including obesity and weight problems.
The sleep and weight connection
There are various changes that occur in the body when you don’t get enough sleep. Some of these changes may affect how you feel physically. These physical feelings may be different for everyone but include extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches and feeling cold are a few that I know I have experienced from time to time.
In addition, there are some specific changes that directly influence our eating habits. Recently, I have begun to notice that the days following a poor night of sleep, I experience hunger almost constantly. I will eat a meal and then sometimes find myself hungry an hour later. And I mean like stomach growling hungry. Not the kind of hungry from boredom or other emotional stimulation but actually physically hungry. Now I understand that these are likely due to hormonal changes taking place in my body showing me that for certain there is parallel between my sleep and weight loss.
Ghrelin, the hormone in the body that promotes hunger, actually increases with a lack of sleep. At the same time, the hormone, leptin which promotes satiety decreases. Meaning that the two hormones which monitor our hunger are working against us when we are tired. So the body actually feels more hungry and less satisfied by the food eaten.
Changes to the brain
Poor sleep actually changes our brain’s reaction to food. It starts by decreasing your self-control, making if more difficult to make good, healthy food decisions. Poor sleep also affects the ability to make good decisions by increasing the appeal of high carb, high calorie and high fat foods.
A recent study further showed that the area of the brain associated with food intake, actually showed increase activity with poor sleep. This change suggests that there may be more appeal to food, especially as a reward, when you are tired.
In summary, the connection between sleep and our hunger is related to hormonal changes that occur in our body which may make us physically feel more hunger or feel less satisfied. In addition, our self-control is compromised as well, making it easier to reach for unhealthy foods rather than healthy ones.
What causes disturbed sleep?
Mental and physical issues
Sleep apnea is a physical condition which decreases the quality of sleep. It also just happens to be a condition that worsens with weight gain, creating a vicious cycle which may be hard to break. With poor sleep causing weight gain and then the additional weight making the sleep apnea worse and causing increased sleep disturbances.
Stress or worry
Have you ever been crazy exhausted and laid down in bed and suddenly your brain just starts going and it won’t stop. I have had this happen FREQUENTLY. It most often happens for me when I am worried or stressed about a situation in my life. There’s no easy answer for this problem. Mainly, I recommend looking for ways to reduce or manage your stress including exercise, meditation/yoga or even talking out your stresses with a friend or professional therapist.
The darker your environment the better. After a few weeks of restless sleep last month, I realized that there was too much light coming in to my bedroom from a streetlight directly outside the window. I covered it temporarily with a blanket and immediately noticed an improvement in the quality of my sleep. Even the little bit of light that comes from electronics in your room may be disturbing your sleep.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night sweating or freezing cold? Everyone’s comfort level is different but a cooler rather than warmer environment is best for sleep.
Sometimes we don’t have any form of control over this one. Especially when you have noisy neighbors or a lot of noise immediately outside your home that interferes with your sleep. A solution for you may be to start sleeping with music or some type of sounds. From time to time I have used white noise or wave sounds for help drown out the noise in my environment with good effect.
The most common chemical issues relating to sleep come from alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. However, it should be noted that there may also be some side effects of prescription medications that may be interrupting your sleep. Any concerns that you may have about the medications you take and their affect on sleep should be discussed with your doctor.
As I have gotten older, I see that caffeine and alcohol have more of an effect on the quality of my sleep. It is not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night after having a couple of drinks and being unable to go back to sleep. In my case, the worst trigger for this issue is red wine. While drinking alcohol may help you go to sleep initially, as the body metabolizes the alcohol, it then causes your body to enter arousal mode thus causing a decreased quality of your sleep or in the worst case, insomnia.
Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants. Meaning they may cause disrupted sleep or diminished sleep quality and even at times the inability to sleep at all. If you begin having difficulty sleeping or waking up frequently, I suggest beginning with a look at your caffeine intake. You may be able to just alter how late in the day you drink your last cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage and fix the problem. The same can be said of the timing of your last cigarette of the day as well as smoking too close to bedtime may cause sleep disturbances.
Are there foods that can actually help you sleep?
You’ve likely heard before the anecdotal cure for insomnia being a cup of warm milk or relaxing tea. Or of course, there’s always the tryptophan in turkey that makes you feel almost comatose after eating it on Thanksgiving Day. But this made me start to think about what foods, especially healthy foods you can eat that will help you go to sleep and stay asleep.
The hormone that helps the body regulate its circadian rhythm is melatonin. Eating foods with tryptophan, magnesium, calcium and B6 will help your body produce more melatonin naturally.
- Tryptophan and B6 — Tryptophan is an amino acid which the body converts to make melatonin and B6 must be available in order for the conversion to take place.
- Magnesium — An essential nutrient and mineral that the body needs. It works by deactivating adrenaline.
- Calcium — An essential nutrient and mineral that the body uses to make melatonin.
Deficiencies in both calcium and magnesium are directly related to difficulties staying asleep for the entire night.
Foods containing these nutrients
- Walnuts (tryptophan and melatonin)
- Almonds (magnesium and tryptophan)
- Sunflower seeds (melatonin, B6, magnesium, tryptophan)
- Dairy products (tryptophan, calcium)
- Lowfat yogurt (tryptophan, calcium, magnesium)
- Fortified Plant-based milk (calcium)
- Grains (tryptophan and melatonin)
- Spinach (magnesium, calcium, B6)
- Tart cherries (melatonin)
There are many other foods that are sources of these nutrients. These are the ones with the largest variety of the different nutrients that aid sleep as well as ones that I most associate with a snack or beverage before sleep.
Snack to eat before sleep
Eating foods with one or more of these nutrients may improve the quality of your sleep or even assist you with falling asleep faster and even staying asleep. Including these regularly in your diet is important but also combining some of these foods and eating a small snack within an hour of bedtime may also assist with sleep. The trick here is to make sure that the serving is small as you don’t want to go to sleep overfull.
- A small serving of nuts
- Yogurt parfait with sunflower seeds, pomegranates and banana
- Overnight oat jar
- Warm almond milk drink
- Chamomile tea
- Tart cherry juice
- Small smoothie with spinach, banana, yogurt and milk
Foods to avoid before sleep
In addition to eating certain foods, there are also foods which you want to make sure to avoid in the timeframe before sleep.
- Caffeinated beverages or foods
- Food that may cause indigestion such as fatty foods or spicy foods.
- Foods high in protein which cause the body to work harder and expend more energy digesting food rather than focused on sleep
- Drinking a lot of water or eating foods that are natural diuretics such as watermelon and celery, as your sleep may be disrupted by trips to the bathroom.
My recipes for sleep
Today I am sharing with you my recipe for a turmeric milk which I drink each night. I like turmeric milk because it helps me sleep while at the same time fights against inflammation in the body.
In addition to the recipe in today’s post you may consider making one of the recipes below and eating a small serving before sleep.
My preference is to use almond milk, but you can replace with dairy or soy milk. These milks also help to promote good sleep. Also, turmeric has a vibrant yellow color and will stain dishes or storage containers if left in it for too long. So keep that in mind if you don’t consume it right away.
I also like to drink this beverage iced in the afternoon for its antioxidant benefit rather to help me go to sleep.
You can garnish your turmeric latte with a bit of coconut cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. For the coconut cream, I simply scoop some of the more “solid” cream in canned coconut milk.
Turmeric Almond Milk Latte
- 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
- 2 tsp turmeric
- ½ inch piece of fresh ginger grated
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 tsp of honey or sweetener of choice
- Mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to become combine and become fragrant.
- Strain the drink through a strainer into a bowl.
- Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and maybe even a dollop of coconut cream.
I continue to be amazed at the correlation I see in my own life between sleep and weight loss. It is evident in how terrible I feel after a night of less sleep or disrupted sleep. I actually feel more hunger frequently and intensely when I am tired. As a result, I continue to seek ways to improve the quality of my sleep. through changes in my sleep environment and closely considering my habits and how they affect my sleep.
Let’s all get some quality zzz’s!!!! Let me know about other tricks and sleep enhancements you may use to get adequate rest.
Tell me your thoughts!!
Did you make this recipe?? Tell me if you liked it or how preparing it went for you!! And if you liked it be sure to leave a 5-star rating on the recipe card!!
Don’t forget to check out these posts for other recipe ideas for foods that may help you sleep.