People who don’t sleep enough have higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and lower levels of the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you’re full. Night owls tend to be up and about at home in the evening and this may give them more opportunities to be around food. If they’re tired, their will power might be low and so they may be tempted to reach for foods that are high in calories, possibly raising risks for weight gain. Lack of sleep also disrupts the natural circadian rhythm, which can slow the metabolism, again setting people up for weight problems. Here are some diet-related dos and don’ts:
- Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and is found in coffee, most teas, chocolate and many choices of soft drinks. ”Some people will tell you not to have caffeine just before you go to bed; others will say not to have it for eight hours before bed, and some will say not to have it at all,” says Fran Berkoff, a Toronto dietician. “People have different tolerances, so it depends on how you respond to caffeine.”
- Restrict consumption of alcohol. You might easily fall asleep after having a few beers with your friends in the evening, but chances are that sleep won’t be good quality. Your sleep may also be disrupted if you have to get up several times in the middle of the night to urinate. Alcohol also has a tendency to dehydrate and that makes you feel tired.
- Be aware of your fluid consumption. Berkoff recommends not having anything to drink two to three hours before going to bed, again so you won’t wake up to go to the bathroom.
- Watch your salt intake. Salty foods can make you thirsty and if you drink too much, again, you’ll need to go to the bathroom more often.
- Don’t have a big meal before retiring. Lying down after eating can cause heartburn or indigestion which could make you so uncomfortable you can’t sleep, says Berkoff. This is especially true if you have a big meal with lots of fats because fats digest relatively slowly and this will also interfere with sleep. She suggests not retiring until at least two hours after eating a meal.
- Have a small glass of skim milk, a bowl of low-fiber cereal or a slice of toast before bed. Some experts believe that the carbs in such foods helps provide the brain with triptophan, an amino acid that’s used to manufacture serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is supposed to induce sleep. The milk doesn’t have to be warm, but some people find warm milk more soothing than cold milk and so more likely to induce sleep. You might also want to put a bit of honey in the milk, which adds a few more of those sleep-inducing carbs. The cereal should be low in fiber because lots of fiber can interfere with digestion.
- Remember, though, that the emphasis is on not eating too much at night. “The before-bed snack should be really, really small, so make it light, not too heavy,” stresses Berkoff.
- Try herbal teas to enhance sleep. Among the most commonly used teas to aid sleep are chamomile, valerian and lemon balm, all of which are reported to be relaxing or calming. But make sure that the tea doesn’t contain caffeine. And be careful about drinking too much before bed. Aim to get enough sleep on a regular basis. When you’re overtired, your will power gets zapped and it’s much more tempting to overeat.
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