Sleep is crucial to each and every one of us: It is when we are asleep that our body is ‘programmed’ to do much of the cell repair and regeneration required to keep us healthy. For some lucky individuals sleep comes easily – and they can fall into a deep slumber within minutes of their heads hitting the pillow, for others quality sleep is elusive and if they do manage to drop off, after counting dozens of sheep, can then end up sleeping ‘fitfully’ or have long periods of wakefulness between midnight and 6am: Come morning they, unsurprisingly, feel jaded and, well, like they need a good nights sleep!
There can be numerous reasons why consistently good sleep evades us: including the commonly sited ones like the bedroom being too warm, the duvet being too heavy (or too light), light streaming through cracks in the curtains/blinds, poor ‘sleep hygiene’ and, if you live urbanely, nocturnal sirens going off or just the general traffic of shift workers can all disturb our sleep … but this blog cuts to the chase and is going to look at how weight and dietary habits might affect sleep.
The obvious culprit to blame for impacting sleep is caffeine. Some people can drink a double espresso at 10pm and be asleep by 10.30pm, but for most of us caffeine is a stimulant that is capable of preventing us from falling asleep. In fact some of us, might consciously consume it to help us ‘stay awake’ or keep us alert. Others of us know that we have to be cautious of our consumption after midday. It is worth noting that it is not only coffee that contains caffeine; chocolate, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, green tea and even some de-caff coffees contain caffeine. Caffeine has a ‘half life’ of 4-6 hours i.e. it takes 8–12 hours for the caffeine in a cup of coffee to be cleared from the body; this is an average, so for some people it might take less time, for those at the other end of the spectrum, may take notably longer. If you are struggling to fall asleep at night it is therefore advisable to avoid any caffeine containing food or drink after midday – to see if you notice a difference.
Being over weight can impact on your sleep quality. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep condition, more commonly seen in overweight and obese individuals. It can go unnoticed (undiagnosed) for months and even years, and is often only picked-up when a patient goes to see the GP for a seemingly unrelated health concern, or because they wake up with headaches or constantly feel tired and irritable and can’t put their finger on why. In sleep apnea the individual stops breathing and the brain (and the rest of the body) does not get enough oxygen; this can occur dozens of times during the course of a night leaving the individual feeling unrested on waking and with ‘morning headaches’. Mostly the brain senses the lack of oxygen and rouses the person momentarily who may then cough or change position to allow the airway to open. However the longterm cost is poor health. One proven way to reduce the complaint is to lose weight. Heavy snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, but not all snorers have obstructive sleep apnea.
If you are prone to reflux (a burning sensation in the esophagus after eating), it is probably not a good idea to eat large meals late into the evening, especially if they are spicy or high in fat like Indian curries and Mexican food; as doing so can cause significant discomfort and inhibit the onset of sleep. Invariably it is best not to eat for a few hours before heading to bed if you want to ensure a good nights sleep.
If your working life or social life means that you often eat later into the evening; this can impact on your digestion, your glucose metabolism and your circadian rhythm*. These can all result in either finding it difficult to get comfortable and being able to fall asleep, or causing your blood glucose to drop and your body reflex waking you up in the small hours – and finding it difficult to fall back to sleep again.
Poor blood glucose (sugar) control can affect your sleep and, vice versa, sleep can affect blood sugar levels. A lack of sleep has been shown to increase blood sugar levels – this, over time, can increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (a reversible pre-diabetic state) if coupled with other risk factors such as poor diet and poor lifestyle habits. It might be prudent to have your blood glucose levels assessed (HbA1c) if you suspect your wakefulness could be associated with poor glucose metabolism.
Check-list: Does diabetes run in your family? Are you overweight? Have you lost weight recently, without trying? Do you find you are more than usually thirsty? Are you having to get up in the night to urinate? Are you feeling hungry, despite having eaten? Do you experience blurry vision? Are you feeling uncharacteristically fatigued?
An alcoholic ‘night cap’ might also sabotage sleep: If you drink alcohol before heading to bed, you may fall into a deep sleep quickly. Some people may find drinking alcohol helps them drop-off to sleep, but actually alcohol disrupts your sleep cycle; as the night goes on you spend more time in this deep sleep and less time in the more ‘restful’ REM sleep. Consequently, the next day you can be left feeling tired.
We are seeing a strong, though so far ‘unproven’, link between gut health and sleep. The science is still in the early stages and although an enormous amount is understood about the relationship between a lack of sleep and appetite, obesity and insulin resistance (disrupted blood glucose metabolism) the role of our gut microbiome with regard to how it improves our sleep is not yet understood. (Our gut microbiome is discussed in a separate blog).
We do know that chronic sleep deprivation increases our chances of obesity and how we ‘control’ our food intake. This is down to the resultant decrease in the hormone that makes you feel ‘full’ (Leptin) and a surge in the hormone that makes us feel hungry (Ghrelin). Researchers have calculated that a sleep deprived individual can consume as many as 300 calories more than ‘usual’ after a poor nights sleep! Even if it is only 100 calories more a day, this can, over weeks and months of poor sleep, result in insidious weight gain. We recognise that a lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain that is responsible for ‘impulse control’, which can in turn increase the chance of us making unhealthy food choices – which then impacts the gut adversely and perpetuates the sleepless/weight gain cycle. In summary, it might be argued that this alone, emphasises the importance of working through the root cause of our sleep issues in order to establish proper, quality, restful sleep.
Prescription sleeping tablets should be a last resort, and the root cause of problematic sleeping issues are best addressed, however there are some naturally occurring compounds that are available in supplement form that have clinical data showing they can help us relax or feel calm; two states that are favourable when we are heading to bed: It might be worth trying one or more of these, in your pursuit of improved sleep, while seeking the true reason for your poor sleep.
- Valerian – a plant extract.
- L-Theanine – an amino acid found in tea.
- Inulin** – a plant sourced prebiotic/FOS
(the above are all in the Lamberts range and can be ordered through this website)
- Chamomile – a plant often used in teas and tinctures.
- Lavender – as an essential oil.
If you should decide that you would like to take a ‘sleep aid’ it is advisable to consult your doctor if you are taking any prescription medication, to make sure there are no interactions between your medication and the active compounds in the supplement.
Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (enlarged prostate in men) and the Menopause (in women) are two ‘conditions’ that are also renown for disrupting sleep in the over 40’s and beyond. Thankfully there are things we can do to (without prescriptive medication or HRT) to improve the symptoms of these. I will cover these in a future blog.
* Your circadian rhythm is your sleep/wake cycle. See the Sleep Foundations website for a comprehensive explanation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-circadian-rhythm.
** Dr Michael Mosley covered sleep in a TV broadcast called ‘The Truth About Sleep’ in which he mentioned a prebiotic fibre called Inulin. I have used an inulin product with my clients for years – long before the association made with improving sleep.
A quote from someone who introduced inulin to help with sleep:
“This is my third month of taking Prebiotic Inulin Powder and my sleep has improved no end.”
“I get a great nights sleep almost every night and wake refreshed each morning.”
“This is a big contrast to the quality of sleep i used to have before taking the powder.”
If you would like a consultation or any ‘Professional Range’ supplementation then please do not hesitate to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org. I will invite you for a brief discussion on the telephone to ascertain that there would be no contraindication in any medications you might be taking and to ensure that the supplementation is appropriate or necessary.