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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Kalinowski

You Are What You Eat, But Also How Much You Sleep

motivation is the puzzle piece to employee engagement
After the Daylight Savings Time shift last weekend, it can be a challenge to adjust.

Understanding the dance between sleep and what you eat is crucial in choosing what you consume and when. It turns out, that all the effort you put into healthy living may be pillaged by the lack of pillow time.

On a diet? Insufficient sleep will kick your body into survival mode and 70% of those pounds you lose will come from lean muscle, not the fat you are trying to burn.

Got cravings? Being sleep deprived will give you the impulse control of a two-year-old.

Have a family history of diabetes? A lack of sleep will influence insulin regulation by 40%.  This lays a dangerous path toward Type 2 diabetes.

The bottom line? What we eat has a substantial impact on our body weight, appetite control, metabolic hormones, brain function, gut biome, and sleep quality. 

“Based on evidence gathered over the past three decades, the epidemic of insufficient sleep is very likely a key contributor to the epidemic of obesity, 

 -Matthew Walker, sleep neuroscientist, U of California, Berkeley

The link between your diet and sleep, and let's be honest, our wellbeing and productivity, is far more profound that most people realize. We hear the lecture and know we should, but truly don't understand the damage we are doing to our health and brain function.

As spring break approaches, our motivation level rises to don our swim suits with confidence, right on the heels of losing an hour of sleep to the time change. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health highlights the health risks associated with Daylight Savings Time:

“The scientific evidence points to acute increases in adverse health consequences from changing the clocks, including in heart attack and stroke,” says sleep expert Adam Spira, PhD, MA, a professor in Mental Health

The change is also associated with a heightened risk of mood disturbances and hospital admissions, as well as elevated production of inflammatory markers in response to stress. The potential for car crashes also spikes just after the spring forward, Spira says; a 2020 study found that the switch raises the risk of fatal traffic accidents by 6%.

Sleep and Diet

As more evidence mounts about sleep's role in productivity and wellness, scientists are digging into what happens to our body if we do not give it the necessary time to recharge and repair.

Here's the skinny version:

Body Weight- Insufficient sleep will compromise your ability to manage your body weight by shifting the metabolism of fat.  70% of the weight lost when dieting comes from lean muscle mass not fat when you are underslept.

Changes in the Brain- Sleep deprivation shifts brain activity to the emotional part of the brain and away from the thinking cortex.  This makes it more difficult to resist impulses to eat unhealthy food.  Modern marketing targets the hedonistic part of the brain that craves sugar, salt, and fat, which in ancient times were sparse and important for survival.  Lack of sleep mutes the impulse control center, which makes these foods harder to resist.

Sleep and Appetite Control- the balance of appetite control hormones are negatively impacted with sleep deprivation.  Leptin, the hormone that signals we are no longer hungry, is diminished.  Ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger is amplified.  The result is that hunger levels increase and more heavy carbohydrates and sugars are consumed such as pizza, pasta, ice cream, and desserts.

Metabolic Hormones are Impacted- The system that controls blood sugar levels is compromised.  Not only is less insulin released, cells become resistant to absorbing sugar.  It is dangerous for these levels to stay high and can lead to type 2 diabetes.  A lack of sleep causes both to occur. Result: decreased regulation of glucose by 40%.

Gut Microbiome is ITimmpacted- A lack of sleep shifts the microbiome to an unhealthy  fermented state instead of a healthy state with bacterial-based species. 

The hormone called cortisol is responsible.  Too much cortisol in the blood acts like a stress hormone which affects cardiovascular health, mood, diabetes, mental illness, and shifts the gut microbiome to fermented species instead of healthy bacterial species.

Food and its Impact on Sleep

Not only does the lack of sleep compromise our metabolism of food and health, but food and drink also compromise sleep. It is a bidirectional interaction.

Diets high in sugar and low in fiber are the worst for sleep.  These lead to night wakefulness, an increase in metabolic weight, and body temperature. Cooler body temperatures foster sleep, by the way. There are also two popular beverages that have a tremendous impact on sleep quality.  Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant (psychoactive) that wakes us up and makes us more alert.  It has benefits, but timing is crucial.  Having caffeine in your bloodstream impacts sleep quality by decreasing the amount of deep sleep. 

Deep sleep is crucial for the cardiovascular system, memory, and the restoration of many other systems in the body.  Caffeine affects adenosine levels, which impacts sleep pressure and can result in an afternoon energy crash. 

Caffeine can be found in hidden places. Decaffeinated coffee is not non-caffeinated.  It has 5-30% of a normal cup. Tip: check labels on medications, energy drinks, ice cream, dark chocolate, other foods and drinks to screen for caffeine.

Different people have different sensitivities to caffeine, but in general sleep benefits by its absence whether or not you can fall asleep right away after a cup of coffee. On average, it takes ten hours to clear your bloodstream completely. Alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative and sedation is not sleep.  It disrupts sleep by shifting brain activity into “flight or fright” mode.  It creates sleep fragmentation which leads to poor quality sleep. It triggers waking that is not remembered and diminishes REM sleep.  More REM sleep leads to a longer life and better memory retention (30-50% more). The brain converts learning to memory over time and the impacts can last at least a week.  The brain keeps track of REM sleep, so when alcohol has been cleared by your body, your brain tries to reclaim the REM sleep lost from when it was in sedation mode.  A REM sleep rebound occurs that often includes strange dreams.

Best advice 

Timing matters: Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full.  Stop eating 2-3 hours before bed, and if you eat a snack make sure it does not have high levels of sugar.

Limit caffeine in afternoon and evening because the dose and timing matters. If you have a few drinks, maintain good sleep habits of consistency no matter what day of the week. 

Engaging in sleep savvy routines each day brings physical and cognitive benefits.  We are in an evolutionary mismatch with our current lifestyle which is disrupting our sleep.  Return as much as possible to activity and light during the day, and wind down and sundown environments during the evening. Watch what you eat. 

Consciously feed your mind in the manner you hope to grow.

Brain benefits include optimization of: Productivity, creativity, innovation, neuroplasticity, emotional intelligence, anti-aging benefits, joy, energy, restoration, health and wellness.

Contact us today to learn more!

Author: Neeli Clute, Wellbeing Speaker at fitPROs


FitPros is a turn-key wellness provider empowering people to take charge of their personal health.

Contact FitPros to diversify your company’s wellbeing offerings and help employees meet their health & fitness goals.


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