Of course a good night’s sleep will help you feel as though you can get through your day, but did you know that quality sleep is actually your ticket to better overall, long-term wellness?  Rest restores energy to your body and mind.  Sleep helps combat stress and is proven to reduce the risk of several illnesses and chronic diseases.

Here’s how.

On a nightly basis, our body depends on sleep for “clean-up” and restoration, if you will.  Sleep is when we regulate our hormonal balance, stabilize blood sugar, and burn fat.  When our sleep cycle is disrupted – from kids, stress, or screens – our body isn’t able to perform as efficiently – or at all.

To reach balance within the body, we need to pay attention to not just one critical area: diet, exercise, or sleep but to all of them.  All three of these work synergistically with each other!  When one is off balance, everything is.  Just like you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can’t push your way through life without enough sleep– at least not for long!  In fact, studies show that not enough sleep negatively affects appetite and the ability to lose (or even maintain) weight.

Why do eating and sleeping go hand in hand?

Without adequate sleep, your hunger hormones are dysregulated.  These hormones – ghrelin and leptin – signal to your brain when it’s time to eat and when you’re satiated from eating.  Ever crave a bagel or muffin after being up all night?  That’s ghrelin rearing its head.  Your body produces more ghrelin when your sleep is insufficient, which causes a false sense of hunger.

And then there’s leptin, the hormone that tells you when you’re full.  Your body actually produces less of that when you’re sleep-deprived.  This creates a perfect storm of craving and hormonal dysregulation, which tends to result in overeating.  Carry on with this process for multiple days or weeks and insulin becomes involved.  Thus, the conversion of sugars into fat occurs more rapidly… and that’s just the start!

A night of poor sleep here and there won’t be too detrimental to your overall health.  However, when a lack of quality sleep becomes the norm and not the exception, there are some day-to-day routines you can begin to implement to get back on track.  It is important to set yourself up for a more restful night’s sleep.  These are also important tips to support healthy sleep patterns, even if you don’t struggle with your sleep!

1.   Monitor Caffeine Timing

Did you know that caffeine has a ~6-hour half-life?  That means, 12 hours after your last cup of coffee, one-quarter of it is still in your system.  While everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, and some are more sensitive than others, it’s generally a good idea to limit your intake window.  Avoid consuming caffeine later than about noon to be sure it’s not

interfering with your sleep at night.  Too much caffeine in your system results in more restlessness in bed, a longer time shifting out of the first stage of sleep, and increased wakings in the night.

2.  Limit Pre-Bedtime Meals & Snacks

It’s best to stop eating at least 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed. Research shows that when we eat too close to bedtime, we both disrupt our sleep and contribute to unnecessary weight gain.  Avoiding food intake close to sleep times also allows your body to get ahead of the digestion process.  Your body relies on blood flow during sleep for quite a few functions, such as a natural cleansing of the brain and muscle repair.  When we go to sleep with a full stomach, our body redirects that blood flow to our digestive system.  Thus, digestion compromises other functions that are essential to health and longevity.  If you must eat close to bed, choose high protein and fat options.  It is best to limit carbohydrates and refined sugars, which are known to disrupt sleep more than any other foods.

3.  Unwind with Natural Herbs & Supplements

Chamomile, lavender, and magnesium are all great options to incorporate into your daily evening ritual.  These supplements help you unwind and get more restful sleep.  Chamomile is a natural herb well-known for reducing stress and promoting calmness within the body.  Lavender is a botanical that aids in relaxation.  Lastly, magnesium, an electrolyte most of us could benefit from more of no matter what, may help regulate neurotransmitters that are responsible for sleep.  My favorite ways to incorporate these are with a chamomile tea, lavender Epsom salt baths, and an evening magnesium supplement.

Kim McDevitt is a Registered Dietitian (RD) with a passion for guiding people on how to make cleaner, better-for-you wellness choices.  Specializing in family nutrition, she has worked with both children and adults to help them reach their nutrition goals.  When not coaching at an individual level, Kim is working in the Consumer Packaged Goods world.  She spends her time supporting the initiatives of many of the brands that you find lining the aisles of your favorite grocery story.  Kim has over 10  years of experience working on nutrition strategy and education, content development, and consumer and media relations. Her insights as a nutrition expert and consumer advocate add value to all of her work.   She’s a passionate advocate for clean labels and healthier products.

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