“How are you sleeping at night?” You may be surprised to hear that this is one of the first questions I ask clients at their initial appointment. But the fact of the matter is that over half of adults struggle with insomnia, and the average American gets 6 hours and 50 minutes of sleep per night, when most of us need eight. Sleep is connected to how we eat, what we eat and how we feel. It may seem obvious that sleep plays a huge role in your energy level and immunity (ever notice that the times you get sick, are also the times you are most run down?), but did you realize that sleep is connected to your appetite, metabolism and weight? Sleep controls the hormones which control our appetite (leptin and ghrelin,) and our hormones which control whether we are burning OR storing fat (glucagon and insulin). Besides, who hasn’t reached for an extra mocha, bag of chips or candy bar when staying up later than usual or trying to push through that mid-afternoon lull after a crappy night’s sleep?
It’s all connected: sleep, immunity, appetite, cravings, metabolism, weight… I think of it as a cycle. Better sleep leads to better eating and better eating leads to better sleep. Balanced meals and snacks throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar levels balanced, energy levels up and cravings at bay. The bedtime snack is especially important for quality sleep. A small snack of healthy fat and carbohydrate, such as half a sweet potato with butter, or half a cup of berries with a couple tablespoons of cream, may be all you need to balance your blood sugars all night long and in turn, helping you sleep soundly. (Note: Bedtime is the only time I suggest having fat and carbohydrate, sans the protein. This is simply because protein can interfere with sleep.)
What continually amazes me is how sleep plays such a significant role in overall health. I recently had a client tell me that she is just exhausted by 4:00 pm. She went on to list all of the healthy foods she was eating at the exact times she is supposed to be eating them, the vitamins she was taking at the exact times she was supposed to be taking them and the exercise she wishes she could do but just doesn’t have energy for. When she finished expressing her frustration, I asked her how she was sleeping at night. She paused with a puzzled look and said, “Terribly. I can’t sleep. I wake several times during the night, and usually by 4am I can’t fall back asleep so I just stay up. I probably only sleep a few hours total, every night.”
As a dietitian, it’s important for me to step back and take a look at all of the factors that play into one’s health. I view it as a giant puzzle, and sometimes all it takes is discovering that last piece to put it all together. To help her sleep, aforementioned client had been taking a cheap magnesium supplement that she bought before ever seeing me, but that clearly wasn’t doing the trick. I switched her over to the Metagenics brand of magnesium glycinate (the most absorbable form of magnesium) and started her on melatonin. The melatonin helps her fall asleep and the magnesium glycinate helps her stay asleep. The cost for these two natural supplements amounts to 52 cents per day. She has been feeling great ever since, and states that it’s worth every penny. By continuing to do her balanced meals and snacks, along with being rested, she is able to maintain her energy levels well into the evening hours, giving her energy to not only make it through the day, but to exercise too. It’s not always about food. Sleep plays a significant role. Most people need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, so I urge you to aim for eight and if you’re having trouble, take a step of action.
How are YOU sleeping at night?