Recent data from the Sleep Center of Excellence at Columbia University, shows that when we redmuce sleep by about four hours per night, for four nights, that it led to an increase in eating. The increase in eating amounted to 300 calories per day. The increase is controlled by the reward center of our brain specific to food as well as a change in our appetite hormones. That means this increased appetite can actually be measured in the blood. At the end of the day, people who sleep less feel more hunger and more often crave and eat foods that are higher in sugar and in fat.
The increase of 300 calories eaten was because sleep has a direct effect on the reward centers in our brain. Less sleep also changes one of our appetite hormones, specifically the one that controls hunger. The research has shown that people who sleep less feel hungrier and often crave and eat foods that are higher in sugar and fat.
About 35% of Americans get less than the minimum recommendation of seven hours of sleep per night. 10-30% of these “short” sleepers often suffer from sleep problems like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. Regular sleep less than 7 hours a night has been associated with many medical problems. The medical problems range from psychological conditions to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As poor sleep also negatively affects diet… a poor diet can also negatively affect sleep.
The research also shows that more fiber, less saturated fat, and less sugar result in deeper, less disturbed sleep at night. It may be helpful to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The research concluded that those who followed this diet were 1.4 times more likely to have a good night’s sleep and 35% less likely to have insomnia.
The reasons that sleep and the food we consume are so connected are not completely understood but it’s partly because protein-rich foods such as nuts and seeds, fish, poultry, and eggs contain tryptophan. Trytophan is an amino acid from which the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin is produced in the brain. Other foods including tomatoes, pineapple, tart cherries, bananas, apples, vegetable oils, nuts, and animal products contain melatonin itself.
The effects of diet on sleep may be as or more powerful than mindfulness practices (increasing awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings like meditation) or melatonin supplementation through pills. Studies show that melatonin supplements on average reduce the time to fall asleep by four minutes; In one study, a healthy diet reduced the time to fall asleep by about 12 minutes, and the overall sleep quality was better.
Lastly, eating well throughout the day could produce a deeper, more restful, and restorative sleep which, in turn, could contribute to making better food choices.
Adapted from an article by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, published in Medscape