By Andrew Hall Advanced Sports Dietitian | Exercise Scientist
When chasing health and performance improvements, staying up well after dark, neglecting sleep, scrolling through pages of #instafood and #motivationalmemes makes about as much sense as using chop sticks to eat an acai bowl. This is because after sundown, the screen light entering your eyes (especially blue light) disrupts your natural body clock. Directly altering the sleep-wake cycle, hormones, and even the activity of gut microbiota. Therefore, supplementing your current schedule with an additional hour of snooze might just be the best health habit you make.
In this modern fast-paced world, our days are filled balancing work/study, training, family and social commitments. It is important to incorporate some down time at the end of each day to relax. However, during this time you might turn on Netflix or scroll a social media feed, and this screen exposure, so close to bed, can challenge your capacity to meet life’s demands via sleep disturbance. Nutrition and sleep and are in a bi-directional relationship. Sleep influences what we eat, how much we eat, and how our bodies process the food. Likewise, the way we eat effects sleep duration and quality. Therefore, managing to get back inside the magical 7-9 hours recommended has noticeable benefits. Research continually advises sleep quality impacts body composition (muscle gain and fat loss), learning, memory, pain perception, mood state, inflammation and training recovery. This could be why Team Sky cycling team considered sleep so important they organised Richie Porte an individual sleep bus. Yet with all this research and advice, we still get stuck in the evening screen vortex. Who can blame us? There is an endless supply of seriously cool stuff to read/watch/share!
Ignore what the ‘sleep hackers’ say, there are no short cuts for quality sleep. Good sleep is crucial for good health and maintaining a busy and balanced life. My advice to you; prioritise your slumber by switching off the screens an hour before bedtime. Your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing will thank you for it. Here are five other ways sleep and nutrition are interconnected.
Sleep quality affects eating decisions: This statement has been proven by a 2012 Mayo Clinic study which compared the eating habits of people who slept as much as they needed, to those who only logged two-thirds of their required rest time. The eight-day study found that subjects who were sleep-deprived ended up eating an average of 549 extra calories per day. This overeating response is due to the body’s simultaneous reduction of leptin (a hormone that signals feelings of fullness), and overproduction of ghrelin (a hormone that signals feelings of hunger). When people are sleep-deprived, they snack more often — especially late at night.
Tart Cherries: one of the only foods which naturally contains melatonin. Cherries also contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that may influence sleep by means of cytokines associated with the sleep–wake cycle. More and more sporting teams are adding tart cherries to their nutrition program as a functional food/supplement.
Alcohol: Plays a starring role in numerous memorable stories, but it is no friend of sleep quality. It takes approximately one hour to process one standard drink. When there is alcohol in your body, sleep is ‘shallowed out’, which is not ideal for those training gains. De-stressing at night with a glass or two of alcohol could actually be increasing your body’s stress status the next day due to negative sleep quality effects. E.g. for wine drinkers, it can take four hours to completely process 2 x 200ml glasses.
Caffeine: Cyclists and athletes alike worldwide rejoiced in 2003 when the world anti-doping agency removed caffeine from the anti-doping list. “7 flat whites please waiter”. Sadly, the old “beware coffee after 3pm” is still rather trusty advice. When multiple coffee’s are consumed in a day, the caffeine activity in your body will compound. Although you might feel like it doesn’t affect your ability to get to sleep, caffeine affects biological systems by altering hormones and neurotransmitters. #rethinkyourarvocaffeineinjection
Portions: While a big meal can make you feel drowsy, it also triggers a bunch of physiological responses like hormone & blood flow changes, and a rise in body temperature. Studies have shown body temperature drops naturally when entering deep sleep, and as a result being full from consuming too much food prior to bed can alter our ideal body temperature and disrupt sleep quality.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: To optimise your health, wellbeing, energy levels, training adaptations, and efficiency, think about good sleep as a 24-hour process. What you do during your waking hours will affect your sleeping hours, and vice versa.