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The importance of sleep and could good quality sleep be linked to our diet?


Importance of sleep and diet

In this fast-paced world, it's not uncommon for many of us to feel that sleep is an expendable commodity. We often prioritise our work or personal activities over sleep, believing we can function just as effectively with a few hours less or that we are made differently and are “night owls”. Trust me, I know what it is like to feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get work done or to finally have some “me” time in the late evening.


I get that it’s hard not to fall asleep to a Netflix binge! However, the truth is, a good night's sleep is a fundamental pillar of our overall well-being. Not only does it allow our bodies and minds to recharge, but it also plays a crucial role in maintaining

our health and overall functioning.


Insufficient sleep is associated with a range of health risks, including compromised immune function, increased risk of chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as greater mortality risk

(1). By neglecting sleep, we put ourselves at risk for both physical and mental health complications.


If you look up sleep hygiene advice, such simple steps will be highlighted:


  1. Set a Consistent Sleep Routine: Establishing a regular sleep schedule helps regulate your body's internal clock or what we call “circadian rhythm”. Aim for a consistent bedtime and waking time, even on weekends.

  2. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Make your bedroom a sanctuary of tranquillity. Ensure it is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature (aiming to be on the cooler side).

  3. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: The blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt natural sleep patterns. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime or consider using blue light-filtering glasses if screen exposure cannot be avoided.

  4. Promote Relaxation: Engage in relaxing activities before sleep, such as reading a book, practicing deep breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath. These rituals signal to your body that it's time to wind down.

  5. Aim to get a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep.


However, can we add in adopting a more Whole Food Plant-based diet, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes as another step?

I am not suggesting your sleep issues will be cured by a piece of broccoli but does eating more whole plant foods improve our gut health and in turn improve our sleep quality?

Numerous studies have shown that our gut health influences various physiological and psychological processes, including our sleep patterns. (2) (3)

Whole diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other sources of dietary tryptophan and melatonin have been shown to predict more favourable sleep outcomes. Although clinical trials are needed to confirm a causal impact of dietary patterns on sleep and clarify underlying mechanisms. (4)

The link between gut health and sleep most probably lies in the gut microbiota, a vibrant community of microorganisms residing in our intestines including trillions of gut bacteria. These gut bacteria or probiotics, feed off prebiotics or fibre found in whole plant foods. These bacteria use fibre to create beneficial chemicals called short chain fatty acids which may influence amongst other bodily functions, our sleep quality.

Additionally, some studies have shown that eating specific foods such as kiwis and avoiding certain foods like packaged noodles and other low glycaemic index carbohydrates as well as having a consistent eating schedule can improve quality of sleep. (5)

If despite implementing healthy sleep practices, sleep problems persist, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional. Doctors can provide tailored advice and screen for potential underlying medical conditions. When necessary, they may refer individuals to sleep specialists or for sleep therapy that can assist in diagnosing and treating specific sleep disorders.

Sleep is not an indulgence but a necessity for our overall health and well-being. By prioritising sleep and understanding its intricate connection to our gut health, mental wellbeing, and other aspects of health, we can unlock the potential for improved sleep quality, enhanced energy levels, and better overall health. By incorporating more whole plant foods into our diets and adopting simple steps to nurture our sleep can contribute to a positive cycle of well-being.


However, if sleep issues persist, it is important to seek professional guidance to ensure optimal physical and mental health.

References:

  1. Cappuccio FP, D'Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010 May;33(5):585-92. doi: 10.1093/sleep/33.5.585. PMID: 20469800; PMCID: PMC2864873.

  2. Xiao, Q., Aung, M., Ali, T., Surani, S., Li, L., & et al. (2019). Impact of Sleep Duration and Sleep Quality on the Association Between Biomarkers of Gut Deselection and Obesity in US Adults. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 64(3), 622–632. doi: 10.1007/s10620-019-05529-5.

  3. Huang, Z., Zhang, S., Wang, B., Ren, Q., Wan, J., & et al. (2019). The Gut Microbiota and Sleep. Journal of Neurogastroenterology Motility, 25(1), 1–9. doi: 10.5056/jnm18087.

  4. Zuraikat FM, Wood RA, Barragán R, St-Onge MP. Sleep and diet: mounting evidence of a cyclical relationship. Annu Rev Nutr. 2021;41:309-332. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-120420-021719

  5. St-Onge, M.-P., Mikic, A., Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition, 7(5), (Pages 938–949). doi: 10.3945/an.116.012336.


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