By Coach KB
If you are ready to feast on Part 2, grab a fork and let’s dive in! Part 2 is all about how your nutrition can impact your sleep.
Truth be told, there are as many individual factors as there are individuals that can factor into this nutrition equation - my job as a nutritional therapist is to assess each client’s bio-individual needs and develop different protocols based on their unique circumstances. Since I want to help the most people here without everyone needing to schedule one-on-one sessions I will give you a few simple short-term nutrition tips that could help with a few common sleep symptoms. If you commit to practicing them for a few weeks and see no improvement, it could be a sign that something deeper is going on that might be worth investigating. As you learned in Part 1, good sleep is responsible for so many positive health attributes… and poor sleep is responsible for so many negative ones. Investing in developing habits for good sleep will bring a cascade of many other good things into your life with it.
First, it is important to note that nutritional causes for sleep issues are almost always related to blood sugar dysregulation. This does not necessarily mean that you eat too much sugar (although most of us probably do!). In fact, it might even mean that you do not consume enough sugar. I will clarify here that when I say sugar, I mean everything from fruit to grains and pastas and other starchy carbohydrates to candy and other sweet treats. Whether you consume too many, too few, or even just the right amount of these, dysregulation means that there is something off in the way the body processes and/or utilizes the sugar, which can have major implications for hormone balance, adrenal function, and a whole host of other issues, most playing various roles in your sleep.
Here are the three most common sleep complaints and how we might tackle them from a nutritional perspective:
COMMON SCENARIO #1
You wake up in the middle of the night - maybe 2 or 3am-ish - for no apparent reason and cannot go back to sleep.
- You did not eat enough to keep you satiated throughout the night. If your body gets hungry in the middle of the night it will send cortisol to signal the release of glucose from the liver and ZING! Ideally we will finish dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow time for digestion prior to sleep. This means that our evening meal must have enough good quality fat to keep us full and enough carbohydrates in our meal to stimulate insulin, which drives amino acids like tryptophan (usually thought of as the sleepy-time amino acid) into our cells. This would obviously mean that we need protein, too, but most people do not have an issue getting enough protein. The quick-fix? Eat half a banana with a spoonful of almond butter or a tablespoon of coconut oil with a teaspoon of raw honey right before bed. If this works, then there are obviously some dietary adjustments that need to be made; this should not be a long-term solution.
- This may relate all the way back to your breakfast. When we wake up in the morning we have fasted overnight. If our morning meal is heavy on carbohydrates - toast, cereal, bagels, muffins, pancakes, scones… even fruit… it might be setting us up for a day full of spikes and crashes in blood sugar, which would feed into a cortisol response in the middle of the night as I mentioned in #1. My recommendation is to eat your carbohydrates later in the day at lunch and dinner to avoid the initial blood sugar spike.
- On the note of blood sugar spikes, several studies have linked caffeine with this effect in the body. If you *MUST* have coffee in the morning, drink it with or after your meal rather than before it and always add a fat source like heavy cream, coconut oil, and/or butter to your coffee to slow the effects of the caffeine.
- Evening alcohol intake could also be the culprit. Although it initially makes us feel sleepy, the sugars in the alcohol may cause a blood sugar spike, and consequently a crash in the middle of the night. Refer back to #1 for the cortisol response that would wake you up. Limit your intake to one drink earlier in the night, perhaps with dinner.
COMMON SCENARIO #2
You cannot fall asleep at night.
- This could be as simple as drinking (or eating) caffeine late in the day. Caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours, which means if you drink a cup of coffee at 3:00pm, half of the caffeine is still running through you at 9:00pm. If you do the math, this also means it takes around 24 hours for the caffeine to be fully processed. WHOA. I’m not a coffee hater, but this is serious business. The quick-fix? Consume all caffeine before noon, for sure, although I would recommend before 9 or 10:00am if you really want to give your sleep a fair chance. If you *NEED* coffee, it might be best to switch to green tea or give it up entirely for a month to see how your sleep changes over that time. Stay tuned for next week’s blog on delicious coffee-free alternatives.
- There are a few other reasons you might have a hard time falling asleep at night. Some of them were covered in Part 1. The others we will cover in Part 3, which will come out November 16.
COMMON SCENARIO #3
You often wake up feeling unrested, despite sleeping at least 7 hours.
- People who report this symptom are often chronically dehydrated. Immediately drink 12 ounces of water right when you wake up and then be intentional about drinking water throughout the day between your meals. To start, aim for a minimum of 40-50 ounces per day. Once you have built more a routine, aim for half your bodyweight in ounces, maybe even more it is summer and you are active and sweat a lot. (This tip can also help out quite a bit with Scenarios 1 and 2, so really everyone should follow this plan.)
- Quite honestly, aside from dehydration, this symptom almost always means that there is a web of issues going on that is too complex for a “quick tip.” I would definitely recommend that you commit to the tips listed in this 3-part series for at least a couple weeks, if not a month. If you don’t notice a change it would be worth setting up a consultation. Quality sleep is just too important to your health to ignore for too long.
Having had bouts of poor sleep myself, I understand how life-changing it can be to get good sleep. My primary mission is to help you all be the healthiest, happiest versions of yourself and people who are well-rested are healthier and happier. This feels awesome for us, personally, and it also means we can be more positive contributors to our community. Leave a comment with the tips you are going to try from Part 1 and 2 and report back with any changes. And be sure to stick around for Part 3 where I will address what was the biggest factor of poor sleep for me.