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Not Enough Sleep Can Wreck Your Diet

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When I am at work I hear many comments about how tired people are and how they never feel like they get a good night's sleep. This does not seem to be common only to my job but for much of the American population. There are many things that can prevent a person from getting a good night's sleep. These include drinking caffeine right before bed, exercising too late in the evening, eating sugar laden foods prior to bed, a stressful day, and the list goes on. When people do not sleep well at night, they are moody and irritable in the morning. These are short-term effects and usually change after a good night's rest. The long term effects of poor sleeping habits can lead to poor overall health.

People that do not get a restful night's sleep on a consistent basis tend to have larger waistbands. This can be attributed different reasons. For many people the biggest reason for the increase in weight from a decrease in sleep is motivation. When people feel tired they are less inclined to exercise or make a trip to the gym to workout. A second contribution to an increase in weight for poor sleeping habits is a bigger appetite. This is due to changing hormone levels that occur from inadequate sleep. Not only does sleep affect appetite but when people are tired it can mirror the same feelings in the body of being hungry. This can lead to increased food intake which can contribute to increased weight gain.

Our body has a natural clock that helps to regulate sleep. Most research points to two times during the day when the body is the most tired. These times are 2:00 AM and 2:00 PM. When you feel tired after lunch it is usually a combination of our body's natural pattern and having just eaten a meal that may make you sleepy. There are some foods that tend to make you more tired than others. The most well known is probably turkey which has the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is not just found in turkey but in foods that contain protein.

Carbohydrates increase the availability of tryptophan to the brain which is why meals rich in carbohydrates with a protein tend to make our bodies tired. Knowing this can actually help you to get a better night's rest. Before bed have a small snack containing tryptophan and a carbohydrate, such as cheese and crackers or peanut butter with wheat toast, and see if you sleep better.

The million dollar question is how much sleep is enough? Researchers have not been able to give an exact number hour that a person needs of sleep each night. But most appear to agree that between 7-9 hours is the best amount for a person to feel well rested and ready to take on the day. The National Sleep Foundation in an article entitled "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?" lists these tips for getting a better nights sleep:

  • Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends
  • Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music - begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom - avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed)
  • Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime
  • Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking
Try a few of these tips out and see if you feel better the next day. Every person will be different in what works best for their sleep needs. The more well rested you feel, the healthier your body will feel.

Grete R. Hornstrom is a Clinical Dietitian who is currently specializing in pediatric care. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Exercise Science from Kent State University, a Master of Arts in Wellness Management from Ball State University, and a Master of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University. She has worked with overweight children and adults, recreational and elite athletes, chronically ill children, and every day people on developing nutrition plans and healthy lifestyle changes. In addition she has worked with recreational teams, high school teams, and college teams educating them on the importance of nutrition and performance. She has completed one marathon and three half marathons in the last two years. Her newest sport of choice is cycling.

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