Understanding the relationship between nutrition & sleep

Posted on June 12, 2020 by

Have you ever felt so exhausted that you feel the only way to get through the day is with some high energy food like chocolate? Maybe you need an afternoon sugar hit? Or do you wake up feeling like you barely slept, even though you were actually in bed for over nine hours?

It can be a destructive loop. You sleep poorly, the next day you respond by eating poorly to give yourself energy, then you sleep poorly that next night as you’re wired on the sugar and caffeine that got you through the day.

It’s important to remember that what and when you eat and drink not only impacts energy but can flow on to impacting your sleep quality and duration. When looking at your diet choices, consider that your sleep duration and quality can also influence your dietary habits and behaviour.

Both nutrition and sleep can independently influence athletic performance, for example by fuelling physical exertion and impacting gut health, mood, and cognition. The relationship between nutrition and sleep can also indirectly influence performance too.




A high-performance diet consists of regular, high-quality protein doses, adequate carbohydrates around training, small amounts of healthy fats every day and high/varied intake of fresh produce.

A high-performance sleeping routine involves approximately seven to nine hours per night for adults, and greater than nine hours for children and adolescents.

Below are some ways you can understand and use your diet to facilitate a well-rested sleep.

Dietary factors that influence sleep

  • Tryptophan
    Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used by the body to make serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter) and melatonin (the hormone regulating the sleep-wake cycle). Therefore, there is some evidence to indicate the consumption of a tryptophan-rich meal before bed can improve sleep quality. Foods rich in tryptophan include cow’s milk, turkey, salmon, eggs, peanuts and pepitas.
  • Caffeine
    Caffeine is found most predominantly in coffee, tea, chocolate and pre-workout supplements. While there is proven benefit of caffeine consumption for improved athletic performance in many contexts, excessive caffeine intake can alter your ability to fall asleep and the quality of the sleep. It can take up to 12 hours for the body to completely break down caffeine. Therefore, if training in the evenings, using caffeine may support training performance but have a negative influence on your recovery sleep afterwards.
  • Alcohol
    While alcohol intake before bed may feel like it assists sleep, it actually reduces time spent in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, resulting in a less restorative sleep. A single glass of wine or beer can negatively influence sleep.
  • Fluid intake
    Attention to hydration is a crucial component of a high-performance diet. However, excessive fluid intake before bed can result in frequent sleep disturbance to visit the bathroom. Manipulating the timing of your fluid may assist in ensuring you optimise your hydration status while minimising sleep disturbance.
  • Large meals 
    A large meal before bed can keep the digestive system active so that it’s harder to get to sleep as it’s still working to digest. Aim to leave some time to allow for digestion or have a lighter meal if eating directly before bed.

 

How does sleep influence nutrition?

  • Appetite control
    Sleep plays an important role in regulating the appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Inadequate sleep results in an increase in ghrelin and decrease in leptin – a combination that leaves you feeling hungrier. Consequently, poor sleep can lead to excessive food intake and in increase in desire for more carbohydrate-type meals.
  • Dietary behaviours and choices
    The quality and duration of our sleep also influences the decisions we make about food. Research demonstrates not only an increase in eating for food reward and reduced restraint when we are sleep deprived, but an increased desire for highly-processed, nutrient-poor food choices.
  • Carbohydrate metabolism
    Poor sleep negatively influences the breakdown glucose (the simplest form of carbohydrate) and increase insulin sensitivity. This has strong indications in the context of chronic disease like diabetes, and weight gain.

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