Nutrition and sleep are both indispensable and essential processes for our existence. It is certain that a balanced diet greatly influences our sleep because some foods provide nutrients precursors of hormones that regulate the circadian rhythm, melatonin (regulator of the sleep-wake cycle) and serotonin (good mood hormone) whose production depends on the availability of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor of these hormones. Keep reading to find out more.
Why is sleep so essential?
Sleep is important for neurological processing and physiological recovery; it confers important benefits for mental and physical health, therefore affecting emotional well-being, cognitive function, daytime performance, and physical health.
How much deep sleep do we need? Short sleep duration of fewer than 7 hours per night is associated with a higher risk and incidence of cardiovascular disease and poor cardiovascular health outcomes, including hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, myocardial infarction, and cerebrovascular accident. Sleep, when insufficient, is associated with increased inflammation that overwhelms the immune and antioxidant systems within the body. However, the most recent studies show these effects can be reversed by obtaining an adequate number of hours of sleep.
Relationship between nutrition and sleep
Sleep is the period of rest during which our body is introduced into a particular state, both physical and psychic, which is characterized by a suspension of consciousness and will. A regular sleep and wake cycle ensures the correct hormonal production and, consequently, the right balance between daytime activity and night rest. It is, therefore, a process, occupying about a third of our entire life, indispensable for our health and which is influenced by numerous variables, including food.
Between nutrition and sleep, there is a very close relationship, governed by two hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, which are responsible for regulating respectively the sense of satiety and appetite. If, for example, you spend a sleepless night or you have difficulty sleeping, it has been observed that when you wake up the tendency is to choose high-calorie foods that are rich in fat and sugar that significantly increase the intake of calories, facilitating an increase in weight. A few hours of sleep are associated with a significant reduction in leptin, the satiety hormone, and an increase in ghrelin, the appetite hormone.
Nutrition and sleep: what to eat?
There are foods capable of promoting sleep because they stimulate the production of melatonin, or the so-called sleep hormone: produced by the pineal or epiphytic gland, melatonin has the fundamental task of regulating the rhythm, called circadian, of the sleep cycle-vigilance of our organism. It is a substance called "hypno favoring" promoting the relaxation of different vital functions, rebalancing the relationship between diurnal activity and the night phase, necessary for physical recovery and mental well-being.
The relationship between nutrition and sleep is two-way: the more balanced and healthy the diet, the better it is at night and vice versa. It has been observed that mainly sugary foods are related to a difficulty to sleep with frequent nocturnal awakenings and, conversely, high quality of sleep favors the release of leptin, which, as seen above, controls the appetite stimulation, thus allowing you to manage your body weight.
To ensure a proper balance between sleep and nutrition, it is advisable to follow some good practices and identify which foods to sleep better. Here are the foods to favor a better sleep:
- Prefer foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins of group B because they can promote relaxation of the body;
- Choose foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid facilitating the production of melatonin, such as brown rice, milk, legumes, and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, lettuce, asparagus);
- As for proteins, it is advisable to give priority to bluefish - sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc - because it is rich in Omega3;
- Prefer simple cooking methods that do not require the addition of fats such as steaming, grill, or foil;
- Eat light meals in the evening, leaving the highest calorie intake for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Nutrition and sleep: what to avoid?
To ensure optimal rest, it is important to be aware of certain foods that you should avoid before going to sleep. A restorative sleep, essential to regenerate the body and avoid the onset of stress and concerns, is closely linked to nutrition.
Being aware of which foods are preferable to consume before bedtime and which are not, is the key to ensuring complete relaxation at night. Sometimes, it happens to resort to fast and ready meals as an evening meal, but these often turn out to be rich in fat and difficult to assimilate with very long digestion times. It is therefore advisable to avoid taking the following foods before going to sleep:
- Avoid fried foods, dips, stuffed sweets, sausages (salami, sausage, mortadella), which are difficult to digest, making restless sleep;
- Refrain from eating sugar-rich foods such as pastries, sweets, or ice creams, as they need long digestion times;
- Avoid drinks containing exciting substances, such as caffeine, present in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and so on. Chocolate also contains substances capable of stimulating the body and counteracting sleep;
- Do not take alcoholic drinks: contrary to what you might think, alcohol does not reconcile sleep, but on the contrary disturbs sleep, making it more distant and interspersed with awakenings, even the cardiovascular system must "slow down" already 30 minutes before sleeping.
Not everyone knows that the Mediterranean diet can promote a proper sleep-wake balance. The Mediterranean diet, which has been included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2010, is based on the typical foods of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and is characterized by a wide consumption of fruit, whole vegetables, and cereals and the use of extra virgin olive oil.
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