How You Eat vs. How You Sleep

A healthy would you rather

Yesterday, we asked the question: “If you could instantly make positive changes to either how you eat or how you sleep, which would make the biggest impact in your life?”

The opinion polls are in, and the winner is: Better sleep!

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Some of our creative commenters split the difference and said they’d want to do both. Fortunately, there are a number of studies that indicate that how you sleep and what you eat may be connected.

For example – have you ever had a less than a great night of sleep and found yourself snacking, or piling more on your plate than usual?

Well, last month a small study was released that looked at how even a modest amount of sleep loss (maybe one or two episodes more than you wanted to watch) increased hunger, food cravings, feelings of reward that you get from eating, and overall portion sizes that people eat are increased.

That means that there are connections between getting less sleep and eating more.

Further, studies have shown that lack of sleep generally affects mood before motor or cognitive skills…and I think we’ve all had an experience or two where our mood affected what we eat.

That means that even though sleep won out this time, it turns out that a little mindfulness about your sleep may also lead healthier eating choices as well. Everybody wins!

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you get more out of your sleepy-time each night:

  • Try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Avoid napping throughout the day if it impacts your ability to sleep restfully through the night.

  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex. Do not use your bed to watch tv or work.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and exercise 4-6 hours before bed (depending on how you react to them, and your sensitivity to those substances and activities).

  • If you can’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes after getting in bed, get out of bed and do something until you feel sleepy.

  • Create a sleep ritual before bed such as reading, meditating, listening to music or drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea.

  • Once the sun goes down, avoid looking at blue light. Exposure to blue light has been found to inhibit melatonin production, which is known as the sleep hormone. Lower melatonin levels are associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. You can try using apps such as night shift or f.lux that alter the screen temperature of your devices to emit a yellow tone instead of blue. Alternatively, you can wear a pair of blue-blocking glasses at night.

  • Avoid having any electronics on in your room while you are trying to sleep.

  • Try keeping your bedroom cool, because this can contribute to helping you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

Oh yeah…about that Netflix auto-play…

We all want to binge-watch at one time or another, but if you’re losing sleep because you can’t say goodnight after the next episode starts playing try these instructions from Netflix: “To disable Post-Play's auto-play feature on a Netflix profile, navigate to your Account click Playback Settings, then uncheck the option to Play next episode automatically. Other Post-Play features will still be enabled -- this setting simply turns off automatic playback of the next episode.”

If you still can’t get restful sleep after working on your sleep hygiene, consider working with a naturopathic doctor who can prescribe natural sleep-promoting agents.

We’ll plan another ‘would you rather’ style question next Thursday where we’ll let you help choose the topic we’ll discuss, but we’d love to hear your comments about what you’re interested in.

Got a healthcare topic that you think would be good? Let us know!

Michael Nelson