Let’s Get Serious About Sleep 😴
How good sleep can affect you and your health?
Nothing beats waking up refreshed and energized after a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is a prerequisite for our physical and mental health.
✔ Boost energy & productivity
✔ Regulate mood
✔ Repair & restore
✔ Fight disease
✔ Lose weight
When we sleep, important processes happen, such as your muscles repairing and your mind processing the day’s events. This helps you start the next day with a more rational mental state, more productivity, and physical strength to stay active and fight disease.
In fact, studies have even found that during sleep, our brain flushes out toxins that are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Essentially, sleep is like a battery, helping you recharge and reboot.
Another wonderful process that happens when we get good sleep is autophagy. That’s our body’s way to clean out and repair damaged cells so we can create new and healthy ones.
Tips for a better night’s sleep:
So, aside from the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, how do you get good quality snooze time?
#1 Fast 2-3 hours before bed
When we start fasting a couple hours before bedtime, it helps increase our sleep hormone (melatonin). This mighty hormone helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle and encourage good quality sleep!
#2 Get into a good pattern
That beneficial circadian rhythm is also influenced by our daily patterns. Whenever possible, wake up, go to bed, and eat at the same time each day.
#3 Exercise during the day
Doing activity during the day has been shown to help you fall asleep faster at night and promote more sound sleep. That’s because working out may lower levels of a brain chemical (orexin) which promotes wakefulness and regular physical activity can reduce stress, which can otherwise disrupt sleep.
Rest and Repair
Our lives have us dealing with a lot – from powering through work and bureaucracy to being present in our personal relationships.
So, it’s no surprise we need regular breaks to rest and repair both mentally and physically. This is where sleep comes in…
Slimmer with Sleep
Lose more weight by sleeping? It may sound too good to be true, but sleep plays a critical role when it comes to keeping those extra pounds off and regulating our metabolism. Sleep may benefit weight management by balancing hormones like hunger-inducing ghrelin and appetite-suppressing leptin, regulating appetite cues, decreasing cravings, and boosting metabolism.
Sleep is essential for good health. If you’re new here or are changing your sleep habits, keep in mind that it takes a bit of time to adjust. And don’t forget that we’re always here to support you along the way!
You may try our Deep Sleep Support Supplement
• Promotes deep, restful sleep
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Continue Reading For More on Your Health and Sleep
We all know how crucial a good night’s rest is for our health. And yet … It’s time to make zzz’s a priority—starting with our diets. That’s right: Emerging science suggests that food can have a profound impact on how restful (or not) your night is.
A lot of Americans, suffering from insomnia or some other sleep disorder.
In a recent National Sleep Foundation poll, a staggering 84% of adults admitted feeling tired during the week—mainly because they don’t sleep well, or they aren’t getting enough hours of shut-eye period.
Lack of adequate rest—anything less than six hours or so of quality sleep—doesn’t just leave you foggy and cranky. Chronically missing out is linked to a host of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, mood disorders like depression, and obesity. Being tired bumps up levels of the hormone ghrelin that triggers hunger and dials down leptin levels that signal satiety. It also makes you crave high-fat, high-calorie, sweet foods and be less likely to reach for fruits and veggies than well-rested folks. (In one study, that added up to 178 extra calories a day.)
Michael Breus, Ph.D., is one of the country’s leading sleep doctors and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, informs:
”Say you’re a person who needs eight hours of sleep a night and you regularly get six. Two hours might not seem like a lot—although it is 25% less sleep. “But to your body, it’s actually a lot more than that, because you will have missed around 50% of your REM sleep—the type that’s crucial for memory, mental acuity and focus—since most of your REM comes during the last third of the night (see The Stages of Sleep). So whether you go to bed late or wake up early, you’re going to miss it,”
Breus explained. “People always think of sleep as a quantity measure, not a quality measure. They reason that ‘As long as I’m in bed by 10 p.m., I’m good.’ And nothing could be further from the truth.”
Now a small but growing body of research—much of it just in the past several years—is showing that what you eat can impact how well you sleep, according to Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University and director of Columbia’s Irving Medical Center Sleep Center of Excellence.
“In fact, our research has found that even a single day of eating can impact sleep that night,” she notes. Overall dietary patterns are important. For example, in a 2020 study she had published in the journal Nutrients, women who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet—long heralded as one of the healthiest for its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and fish—had better sleep quality and quantity, as well as fewer nighttime disturbances. And there’s some evidence that diets higher in protein and healthy, fiber-rich carbohydrates improve sleep, as well.
But researchers have also identified specific micronutrients and other substances in food that show promise for the tired and weary among us. “The more interesting studies are in people who have some kind of sleep complaint, but not an actual disorder,” says Michael Grandner, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who studies nutrition’s influence on sleep.
“They show that you can somewhat normalize or at least make sleep better. It’s hard to draw firm conclusions, but they are proof of concept.” There are plenty of foods that can stymie sleep to watch out for, as well (looking at you, caffeine). Read on for the diet and lifestyle moves experts say are worth making so that you and I and all the other sleepy people can—yawn—clock some solid, blissful hours tonight and every night.
Eat Well, Sleep Better
While the science on diet’s impact on slumber is still emerging, these nutrients and hormones have risen to the top as better-rest superstars.
You may be familiar with the supplement form of this sleep hormone. However, it’s also found in foods and is produced naturally by the brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin isn’t a sedative that conks you out like Ambien. Rather, it’s one of the key hormones that regulates your circadian clock—an internal timekeeper of sorts that, among other things, tells you when it’s time to power down and wake up. St-Onge explains that melatonin levels are highest during the night, drop off in the morning (daylight suppresses its secretion), and then start to rise in the evening, a few hours before sleep onset.
Your body makes melatonin from an amino acid called tryptophan found in foods (turkey is an infamous one), but plenty of dietary staples—tomatoes, oats, milk—contain straight-up melatonin. “I’ve come to the realization that all whole foods may have some level of melatonin. It’s intrinsic to the fruits, vegetables and animal products we consume,” says St-Onge. “What we don’t know is how much foods actually contain.” (Supplement dosages typically start at 0.5 mg.) That’s because research has found that amounts of melatonin can differ greatly even among the same type of food, depending on factors such as how a plant is grown and even when a cow is milked. (Fun fact: Milk melatonin concentrations have been found to be highest when cows are milked at night.) However, there’s some evidence that plant sources tend to have higher concentrations of melatonin than animal ones—and it’s been shown that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have greater amounts of melatonin in their bodies than those consuming the least.
Grandner says this may be part of the reason why those adhering to Mediterranean diets sleep better than people who follow a more Western-style way of eating that’s higher in refined carbs and saturated fat and lower in produce, though he notes that this hypothesis has not been well-tested.
While healthy adults usually produce enough melatonin on their own, dietary sources can give you an extra boost in the sleep department. For example, there’s good research that suggests taking melatonin (most trials focus on supplements) benefits shift workers and people with jet lag, although studies on those with insomnia (chronic trouble falling to sleep or staying asleep) have been mixed. “It doesn’t seem to be an effective treatment for insomnia, because for most of these people, their body knows it’s nighttime, they just can’t slow their minds down,” says Grandner.
“But there is quite a lot of data out there that shows melatonin can improve sleep health in people who just have disruptive sleep—that it can help them fall asleep faster and make sleep less fragmented.” For example, a meta-analysis of 17 studies published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that, on average, ingesting melatonin helped participants with trouble sleeping nod off faster, increased total sleep time by as much as 25 minutes, and significantly improved sleep efficiency.
The hormone—which also has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-bolstering properties—may be particularly helpful for older adults, according to clinical trials. Grandner says that’s because as you age, changes occur in your circadian rhythms, and levels of melatonin in the body naturally decline—a big reason why this group often has more sleep issues.
FOODS TO FOCUS ON: Seafood, especially salmon, tuna and sardines, canola oil, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds,
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Numerous studies have noted an association between the consumption of this healthy fat—found in fatty fish (like salmon), walnuts, avocados and flaxseeds—and improved sleep quality and duration. And because your body can’t produce omega-3s on its own, diet (either food or a supplement) is your only delivery system for it.
Results of a randomized controlled trial published this year in the journal Nutrients found that participants given supplements containing omega-3s nodded off faster and slept longer than those who got a placebo. This study looked at two types of omega-3s—DHA and EPA—that are mainly found in animal sources of food, but there’s evidence that a variety in plants called ALA is also beneficial. And in a University of Oxford study, children given 600 mg of DHA daily for 16 weeks got nearly an hour more sleep and had seven fewer nighttime awakenings, on average, than they did before the trial. (For comparison, 3 ounces of salmon has about 1,000 mg of DHA.)
While some studies use supplements with doses higher than what you may get via fish or nuts, research does show that people with the most omega-3s in their diets have healthier sleep patterns than those who eat the least.
What makes omega-3s such good bedfellows? “We know that they help with circadian timing. And they reduce inflammation the body, which has been linked to better sleep,” says Breus. Fatty fish may be a particularly good sleep aid. It offers a trifecta of benefits: in addition to the omega-3s, it also contains vitamin D (more on that below) and tryptophan, which your body converts to melatonin.
FOODS TO FOCUS ON: Eggs, lean meat, fish, milk, grapes, strawberries, tart cherries, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, nuts like pistachios and walnuts, corn, barley, rice and oats
“Vitamin D is one of the circadian pacemakers—it keeps your sleep-wake cycles aligned and working nicely,” says Breus. Yet around 40% of American adults are deficient. (Less than 12 ng/mL—nanograms per milliliter—is considered a deficiency; 12 to 20 ng/mL is an inadequacy.) A meta-analysis of studies with more than 9,300 participants, published in the journal Nutrients, found that low blood serum levels of vitamin D—less than 20 ng/mL—were associated with poor sleep, fewer hours of zzz’s and daytime drowsiness. And a trial that measured the sleep patterns of more than 3,000 older men, published in the journal Sleep, showed that participants with low vitamin D had poorer quality and quantity of rest than those with adequate levels. The researchers note that the findings “suggest a potential role for vitamin D in maintaining healthy sleep.” There’s evidence that lack of vitamin D may up the risk for sleep apnea, as well. You can get vitamin D from some foods, including fatty fish, such as salmon, and fortified cereal and dairy products. But there’s a reason it’s called the “sunshine vitamin”: between 50% and 90% of your vitamin D comes from UV exposure. Around 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin causes your body to produce what you need. So in addition to diet, Breus recommends spending 15 minutes outside daily, sans sunglasses—your eyes can also synthesize the vitamin—or SPF. And because deficiencies are so common, it’s not a bad idea to get your levels checked. It’s a simple blood test your doctor can order. If yours are low, you may want to consider taking a supplement as an insurance policy.
FOODS TO FOCUS ON: Trout, salmon, mushrooms, eggs and vitamin-D-fortified foods like cereal, cow’s milk and plant-based milks
According to the National Institutes of Health, 48% of Americans get too little of this mineral. (RDAs for adults range from 310 to 420 mg.) And that does not bode well for sleep. For starters, magnesium deficiency has been linked to an uptick in mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which are proven snooze annihilators. “Magnesium calms you down,” Breus explains. “It’s an anxiolytic—a substance that prevents and treats anxiety—so it helps you relax and allow the natural sleep process to take over.” Plus, it’s involved with the regulation of your circadian rhythms. In a study of older adults (age is a risk factor for low magnesium), those given 500 mg of the mineral daily for eight weeks dozed off 12 minutes faster, stayed asleep 36 minutes longer and had fewer early morning awakenings than usual. Meanwhile, a placebo group had virtually no changes in their sleep. Boosting magnesium levels in those who are lacking is also associated with more slow-wave sleep—the “restore and recover” kind that’s key for immune health and repairing muscle and other tissues in the body. Unlike vitamin D, your body doesn’t make magnesium, so you have to eat it.
FOODS TO FOCUS ON: Nuts and seeds (pumpkin and chia seeds, cashews, peanuts, almonds), spinach, edamame, black beans, potatoes, yogurt, bananas, fortified breakfast cereals
This is yet another micronutrient that Americans tend to fall short on—particularly women. (RDAs for adults range from 8 to 27 mg.) Iron-deficiency anemia—which occurs when your body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, necessary for your blood to carry oxygen—can make you feel tired in its own right, regardless of how much rest you get. But it has been tied to sleep troubles, as well. (There are several ways your doctor can assess your levels, but a common one is a ferritin blood test that measures the amount of iron stored in your body.) This essential mineral is involved in certain chemical processes in the brain that are linked to sleep physiology. A review of studies on micronutrients and sleep that Grandner worked on found that people with iron-deficiency anemia experienced more night wakings and shorter sleep compared to people with adequate levels of iron. It was also shown to throw off their various stages of sleep. On the flip side, iron-deficient people who upped their intake to normal levels slept better and longer. “There’s also a lot of evidence that low iron levels can cause restless leg syndrome—a creepy-crawly discomfort in your legs that mostly happens at night,” says Grandner. “It’s a neuromuscular issue that has to do with how your brain transports iron.” In fact, after controlling for other factors that might impact sleep, a Turkish study found that 68% of those with iron-deficiency anemia had problems sleeping, and another concluded that 24% suffered from restless leg syndrome—a number nine times higher than the general population.
FOODS TO FOCUS ON: Spinach, oysters, tofu, sardines, legumes (lentils, white beans, chickpeas), fortified cereals and lean beef and chicken
WAKE UP AT THE SAME TIME EACH MORNING.
“It’s more important than sticking to a consistent bedtime because that’s when sunlight hits your eyes and resets your circadian clock,”
In fact, a Duke study found that all-over-the-place wake and sleep times were even more strongly linked to health issues like high blood pressure, depression, stress and obesity than how much you sleep.
SIP WATER FIRST THING—AND STAY HYDRATED.
Sleep in and of itself is a thirst-inducing event. According to Breus, your body loses around a liter of water every night, mainly from breathing, so you’ll need fluid to replenish it in the morning. Plus, some studies show that going to bed thirsty can mess with your sleep-wake cycle. A large population study published in the journal Sleep found that participants who slept just six hours were significantly more dehydrated than those who nabbed eight.
GET 15 MINUTES OF MORNING LIGHT WITHIN 10 MINUTES OF GETTING UP.
Morning light kicks back your circadian rhythm.
BALANCE PROTEIN AND FIBER-RICH COMPLEX CARBS AT BREAKFAST.
This dietary pattern has been linked to better sleep.
In a review of 34 studies on exercise and sleep published in Advances in Preventive Medicine, 29 of them found physical activity (at least 30 minutes, most days of the week) to be beneficial. Research shows that it can help you snooze longer and spend more time in deep, restorative slow-wave sleep. The benefits can be profound. In one study, participants with insomnia who did a single 50-minute bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise fell asleep 21 minutes faster, spent 36 fewer minutes awake during the night and logged an extra hour of sleep than usual, on average. (Although any type of workout showed improvements over the nonactive control group.) It’s so effective that exercise is often a prescribed treatment for people with insomnia.
How does it work? Experts have several theories: For starters, exercise is tiring—so your body is ready for bed when it’s time. Plus, it reduces stress and anxiety that might keep you up at night. Working out also raises your body temperature for about four hours afterward, and then causes it to drop—a similar phenomenon to what happens during sleep that could signal tiredness. And it raises levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep-wake cycles.
MUNCH A SLEEP-PROMOTING LUNCH AND DINNER.
Same general principles as breakfast.
HAVE A CUP OF BANANA TEA 30 MINUTES BEFORE BED.
“Bananas are loaded with magnesium, but the peel has three times the amount as the fruit itself,” according to Breus. You cut a washed, unpeeled banana in half (discard the end) and steep it in a cup of hot water until it turns brown, about three to four minutes, then sip. Remember: magnesium has a calming effect and helps maintain regular circadian rhythms.
AVOID BLUE LIGHT 90 MINUTES BEFORE BED.
Light (as in sunlight) is what helps sync your internal circadian clock—which signals when it’s time to rest and wake up. Anything bright close to bedtime can put your body into go mode, rather than tell it to wind down—but the blue light from devices like your smartphone or laptop is particularly meddlesome. It has a wavelength that suppresses the secretion of melatonin and causes an increase in heart rate and body temperature that will make it take longer for you to nod off, cause you to toss and turn and shorten total sleep time. (And there’s evidence that the “night mode” some phones have doesn’t work.) Breus didn’t hate me watching TV in the bedroom—its light is less disruptive—but I had to ditch any blue-light-emitting electronics 90 minutes before hitting the hay. Of all the to-dos, this was ab-so-lute-ly the hardest. I totally forgot on night one and wound up getting off my phone at approximately, oh … zero minutes before bed. But after that, I read a book (on paper) or watched TV.
KEEP THE BEDROOM AROUND 66 TO 70 DEGREES.
Research shows that this is the optimal room temperature for sleeping. And because warmer temps can throw off sleep more than cooler ones, it’s a good idea to err on the lower side—especially if you also have heavy blankets or comforters.
DON’T GO TO BED HUNGRY.
Low blood sugar interferes with restful sleep. “The process of digestion takes away from the process of sleep,” Breus explained.
FIND A SOUL-MATE PILLOW.
“Nobody is 100% satisfied with theirs. And think about it: your pillow is like a bed for your head. Its job is to keep your nose in line with your chest so, if you’re a back sleeper, you’ll want a thinner one. And if you sleep on your side, go thicker.” explains Breus. “Especially with people who have neck, shoulder or upper back pain, 9 times out of 10 all they need is a new pillow.”
USE EARPLUGS AND/OR WHITE NOISE.
Top Sleep Disruptors / Five things to avoid:
This is arguably the biggest culprit when it comes to poor sleep. First of all, it’s a stimulant. Plus, research shows that caffeine suppresses melatonin production and also blocks receptors for a chemical called adenosine, which induces sleepiness—both of which can negatively affect sleep quality and quantity. A Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study found that ingesting 400 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of about one venti Starbucks coffee) six hours before bed significantly disrupted participants’ sleep compared to a placebo—shortening the duration by more than an hour. Caffeine also hangs around in your body long after you’ve gulped your morning coffee. It has an average half-life of around five hours, but it can be up to 10 hours, which means that if you have a cup of joe at 3 p.m., half of that caffeine will still be in your system at 8 p.m. or later. So Breus advises cutting off your caffeine intake at 2 p.m. to make sure it’s cleared out by the time you want to sleep.
“Many people drink alcohol because they think it will help them sleep,” says Frank Scheer, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “But while it may help them fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep is going to be lower.” The problem is that once the booze wears off, it has the opposite of a sedative effect—disrupting your sleep later in the night and cutting the amount of REM time you get (the stage linked to learning, memory and mood). “Alcohol almost completely obliterates stages 3 and 4 of sleep, which are tied to immune and cognitive function,” says Breus. And the more cocktails you have, the worse it gets. His advice: Stick to one or two drinks max and stop drinking three hours before bedtime.
Diets high in sugar and other simple carbs have been associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more middle-of-the-night awakenings, according to research Columbia’s Marie-Pierre St-Onge has conducted. “The mechanisms aren’t totally clear, but spikes and rapid decreases in blood sugar levels may disturb sleep,” she says. Eating lots of sugar can also cause inflammation, and some evidence suggests this in turn may throw off your internal body clock.
The same clinical trial that fingered sugar as an enemy of sleep also found that participants who ate diets highest in sat fat spent less time in slow-wave sleep—the “restore and recover” type. St-Onge says inflammation could be at least one of the reasons here, as well.
One small study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that eating Tabasco or mustard with dinner made it harder for participants to fall asleep and reduced the overall quantity they got, as well. Fiery foods may bump up your core body temperature—which ordinarily dips by several degrees at night—and hinder sleep. Plus, they can make you more prone to acid reflux, which isn’t conducive to peaceful slumber either.
A Note on Naps
Taking an afternoon siesta may seem like a logical way to catch up on sleep. But Breus says: don’t do it—especially if you have insomnia. “Generally speaking, napping is not the answer. It’s going to lower your sleep drive and make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night,” he explains. A better strategy if you need an energy boost is to take a walk outside (the combo of exercise and daylight can increase alertness) or have some caffeine if it’s before 2 p.m. The only time he says a nap would be appropriate is if, say, you only clocked five hours the night before and have a big presentation you need to be “on” for—and even then, keep it to 25 minutes or less. Otherwise, you’ll shift into a deeper sleep stage, and when you wake up, you’re going to feel foggy instead of refreshed.
The Stages of Sleep
While we tend to focus on the number of hours we’re in bed, remember: the whole purpose of sleep is to restore your mind and body, so getting quality zzz’s matters too. There are four stages of sleep that you usually cycle through between four and six times a night. Each cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes. Here’s the breakdown.
STAGE 1 This is the lightest stage of sleep and begins as you’re nodding off. Your brain activity begins to slow and your muscles relax and might twitch. It typically lasts just a few minutes.
STAGE 2 Breathing, heart rate and body temperature drop as you enter this slightly deeper stage of sleep. You spend about 25 minutes in it initially, but the time lengthens with each sleep cycle up to around 60 minutes. You spend more time in stage 2 than any other sleep stage.
STAGE 3 Also known as slow-wave sleep, this is the deepest stage of sleep—when tissues, bones and muscles are built and repaired, and the immune system is strengthened. This deep, restorative sleep lasts for around 20 to 40 minutes.
STAGE 4 Finally, you enter REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep, when brain activity, heart rate and blood pressure pick up almost to the same levels as when you’re awake. While your eye movements remain active—thus the name—your muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Dreaming occurs during this stage, which lasts between 10 to 60 minutes. (It’s shorter during early sleep cycles and lengthens as the night goes on.) REM makes up about 25% of total sleep. It’s crucial for cognitive functions like memory, learning and creativity.