Sleep is often underrated in today’s society and is overlooked as an essential component of nutrition. What many do not realize is that sleep deprivation can impose serious side effects on one’s nutritional status.
Q: How does sleep affect nutrition?
A: From MashaFox-Rabinovich, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, outpatient dietitian at Washington Adventist Hospital, and by Shayna Frost, Sodexo dietetic intern:
Several studies have shown that the reduction of sleep, both quantity and quality, negatively affects the body’s endocrine and digestive systems. A large side effect associated with inadequate sleep is the intake of sub-optimal food choices. Studies have shown that individuals who meet the required recommendations for sleep often choose healthier foods than those who are surviving on less than 7 hours of sleep each night. This is because sleep deprivation is associated with impaired satiety signaling and hormone regulation, which can lead to increased appetites, impaired glucose utilization, and increased cravings for sugary and caffeinated foods such as starches, desserts and sodas. These lifestyle patterns often lead to unwanted weight gain and increased risks for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
Additionally, other studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals tend to have more sedentary behavior, decreased resting metabolic rates, and decreased overall energy expenditure, which can lead to increased fat mass retention. In fact, many studies have identified an interesting relationship between increased sleep deprivation and decreased fat loss in individuals currently on weight loss regimens. Therefore, in addition to choosing nutritious foods and achieving daily exercise, getting enough sleep each night plays a larger role than one would imagine in terms of weight maintenance, weight loss, disease management, and overall optimal health.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended hours of sleep each night is 10 to 11 hours for children, 8.5-9.25 hours for teenagers, and 7-9 hours for adults. Due to the increased prevalence of sleep disorders, daily stressors, and voluntary sleep restrictions, the amount of quality sleep that Americans are receiving is currently declining. In fact, only about 66% of adults and 15% of children in the United States are achieving these recommendations.
Tips for Achieving Adequate Sleep
- Have a defined bedtime
o Although it may sound childish, having a designated bedtime each night allows our body to regulate its natural circadian rhythm to ensure adequate sleep quantity and quality throughout the night.
- Create an optimal sleeping environment
o Melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm, is secreted at night to promote sleepiness. This hormone gets activated by dark settings. On the other hand, in bright settings such as the morning, hormone secretions are suppressed to promote wakefulness. Therefore, keeping the bedroom dark and turning off all lights can help one fall asleep easier at night.
- Be comfortable
o Make sure that your bed, pillows, and blankets are comfortable, that the temperature is cool enough, and that it is a quiet environment. These atmospheric conditions greatly impact one’s ability to fall and stay asleep throughout the night.
- Turn off all electronics before bed
o Brightness and noises coming from televisions, computers, tablets, and cellphones can be distracting and prevent the mind from relaxing and preparing for sleep.
- Don’t eat or drink right before bed
o Energy from food and caffeinated beverages can prevent one from falling asleep at night. To avoid this, stop eating or drinking about 2-3 hours before planning on falling asleep each night.
- Avoid daytime naps
o Although this sounds counterintuitive, long daytime naps can actually prevent the body from being able to fall asleep naturally at night. Quick 20-minute naps are okay every now and then throughout the day, but most sleep should be achieved at night in order to establish a set routine.
- Maintain daily exercise
o Research has shown that moderate and vigorous levels of exercise throughout the day can help the body naturally fall asleep at night. Even small adjustments like taking the stairs at work or going for a walk on a lunch break are beneficial.
- Avoid over-sleeping
o Studies have shown that adults that sleep over 9 hours each night are also at risk for various cardiovascular and metabolic conditions, too. Therefore, it is ideal to stay within the recommended hours of sleep ranges established by the National Sleep Foundation to optimize overall health.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a sleep disorder, please speak with your doctor about a sleep test. If you need help finding a doctor, please call 1-800-642-0101, or visit AdventistHealthCare.com/doctors.
The Sleep Disorders Centers at Washington Adventist and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers offer two of the most comprehensive and advanced sleep medicine programs in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, visit WashingtonAdventistHospital.com/Sleep or ShadyGroveAdventistHospital.com/Sleep.
- National Sleep Foundation. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need. Internet: http//www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need (accessed 2 April 2014).
- Krystal AD, Edinger JD. Measuring sleep quality. Sleep Med. 2008; 9. PubMed PMID: 18929313.
- Harvard Medical School. Changes in sleep with age. Version current 18 December 2007. Internet: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/variations/changes-in-sleep-with-age (accessed 2 April 2014).
- Shlisky J, Hartman T, Kris-Etherton P, Rogers C, Sharkey N, and Nickols-Richardson S. Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;7. PubMed PMID: 23102177.
- Schmid S, Hasschmid M, Schultes B. The metabolic burden of sleep loss. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology. 2014; 3. PubMed PMID:15851636.