Sleep is such a huge important topic! Lack of sleep can affect the power of your immunity, increase overall body inflammation, your ability to focus, retain information and perform stressful tasks. We also know that just by cutting an hour or two of sleep a night, can affect leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger. Meaning, individuals have tendencies of eating more and having more false senses of true hunger due to this hormone being dysregulated by lack of sleep. It also leads to substantial changes in glucose metabolism and blood pressure control and has shown to reduce ones ability to respond to insulin by 30%. That’s huge!
For more understanding around hormones and how they affect your metabolism through all our life cycles, check out my Women’s Health Through Nutrition Seminar)
There are many varying factors that can affect our quality of sleep. Many that we do have control over, such as stress management, nutrition intake and timing, sleep time rituals and routines. There are a few we do not always have control over. Like, particular hormones that might be out of balance, inflammation caused by an illness or traveling to another time zone.
But let’s take a peek at some of the things we can control and see how many we can start including in our day to improve overall sleep quality.
Limit these close to bedtime:
Caffeine – I usually recommend being done with caffeine intake by noon…there are few occasions where even 3pm can be ok, depending on dose, but that’s an individual call.
(Learn more about caffeine and how you can make it work for you here!)
Alcohol – Many people think alcohol helps them with sleep. You may feel it helps you fall asleep, but, the reality is that it will alter the quality of sleep, inhibiting proper REM, which is affiliated with our mood, our memory and learning.
Saturated fats – With all my athletes, I encourage them to limit heavy foods prior to bed, because it can and will effect recovery in general, overall inflammation and immunity. Still want that steak and potato with butter and sour cream. No problem, just try to time it where you can give your body several hours (preferably 4+) for it to start that digestion process before bed.
Include all throughout your day for improved sleep:
Food high in Melatonin: Melatonin naturally increases as the day goes on. Its part of our circadian rhythm. So naturally, it is increasing at night prior to bed. This isn’t something that makes you instantly fall asleep, but it is helpful in helping your body rest. Consuming foods throughout the day with melatonin in them, will help your body have enough when the time is right to increase levels. Many foods have melatonin including eggs, barley, fish, nuts etc. Check this Melatonin list here!
Omega-3 fatty acids: Because these help bring down inflammation in our body, we need to consume these on a regular basis throughout the day. We do not get enough of these in our diet in general. See how you can increase some of these sources several times a day – salmon, tuna, sardines, avocado, flaxmeal, chia seed and walnuts.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D can also aid in reducing inflammation, but also plays a big part in our sleep-wake cycles. Many are low or low “normal”. When getting your vitamin D labs drawn, aim to be around 45-75 in general. This allows wiggle room for some reduction throughout the year without allowing it to get too low – 35 or below is a red zone. Look at increasing vitamin D foods such as trout, salmon, mushrooms, eggs and fortified foods such as plant-based milks.
Magnesium: I’m a big fan of magnesium. Especially for athletes, we are finding that we are running low. Magnesium is helpful for muscle health, nerve health and cardiac health, as well as gut motility (remember your gut/stomach/colon is a muscle!). Choose more nuts and seeds, milk and plant-based milks, beans – black beans, navy beans etc, edamame, mushrooms, yogurt and potatoes!
Iron: Many people experience something called “restless leg syndrome”. This is an uncomfortable nerve and neuromuscular condition. Get your iron levels checked to make sure you are good to go and take a peek at your current intake. Choose things like spinach, tofu, sardines, legumes, beef, chicken and raisins to name a few.
Check your routines:
- Keep wake and sleep times as consistent as possible. With all things, a body loves consistency and sleep patterns is one of them. Obviously life doesn’t always work this way, but the more we can work to keep those patterns as close to consistent as possible, the best your body can respond.
- Increase exercise or any physical or mental stress activity during the day. Try to avoid high intensity at least 4 hours before bed…if not more ideally.
- Take time to journal your day and prepare to do lists or even just things that are on your mind. Get them down on paper so your brain isn’t trying to solve problems right before bed.
- Take a solid hour – 2 before bed where you eliminate screens. Phone screens, computer or TV screens. If you must use them, choose to reduce the lighting on your phone or computer and or use blue blocker glasses.
- Choose wind down activities during that last 1 – 2 hours before bed including:
- Stretching or yoga – this is one of the best things you can do at least 15-20 min before bed. It releases stress and energy and ensures, muscles are already heading into a relaxed and restful mode. This also encourages deep breaths, which alone decrease stress hormone and induces the relaxing hormone serotonin before bed. Check out this gentle routine.
- Meditate – try these to practice calming your mind
- Create a gratitude journal and reflect on everything that went well that day or felt good that day.
- Avoid stimulating or disturbing conversation before bed – like financial issues, house repairs and other topics that may feel frustrating
- Prepare your room for sleep. Use lavender (it invokes relaxation in the brain), reduce heat to your sleeping space to keep body temperature lower, use eye masks or reduce light to the room
- Take a warm bath or shower. The fall of your body temperature post bath/shower is what promotes relaxation and feelings of sleep
- Use earplugs or white noise machines to block out any sudden noises or disturbances
I would love to help bring more balance to your life, nutrition and health, so let’s talk! Feel free to schedule a meet and greet before you book to see what working together could look like! Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Nicole is recognized state-wide and nationally as a Registered Dietitian and is also a Certified dietitian through the state of Wisconsin. She is also a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and a Certified Personal Trainer and Physical Fitness Instructor.
Nicole’s areas of expertise include: Wellness and lifestyle coaching, weight management, behavior modification, eating disorders, vegetarian lifestyles, gluten-free living, sports nutrition, recipe and menu design and development.