It is said that humans spend about one third of their life in bed and will eat approximately 35 tons of food. Did you also know that eating and sleeping go hand in hand? Eating can affect how much we sleep just like sleeping can affect how much we eat.

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Have you ever gotten a poor night’s sleep and the next day craved sugary foods, breads, and pastries? Studies have found that the less sleep people get the more energy they consumed throughout the day and more likely to crave these items. Sleep is necessary to help regulate hormones that control appetite. Lack of sleep can increase production of hormones that signal hunger and decrease production of hormones that tell us were full. Continual lack of sleep could lead to excessive energy consumption due to unregulated hormones.

Additionally, how we sleep, as far as quantity and quality, can be greatly affected by what we eat throughout the day. It is widely known that caffeine affects a person’s ability to stay awake. Caffeine is found in things like coffee, teas, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate. These beverages and foods may be sought after in order to help someone stay awake during hours that are typically spent sleeping, such as late night work or studying. However, consuming these items in excess could have an adverse effect on your ability to fall and stay asleep. This, in turn, causes tiredness and groggy feelings the next day and the need for caffeine to stay awake (again), thus creating a vicious cycle.

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So the question then becomes, ‘how much is too much caffeine?’ Recently the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has now addressed this concern. The 2015 version of the Dietary Guidelines states that, like with most things, moderation is key. Moderation varies from person to person but it is noted that for those who choose to consume caffeine moderate intake would be around 250 mg per day with an upper limit of 400 mg per day. So what does 250 mg of caffeine look like? Well, a standard 8 oz cup of coffee would contain roughly 100 mg, so this would be 2-3 cups of coffee a day for moderate caffeine intake. Other caffeinated items, such as energy drinks, can vary greatly in their content and can have equivalents of up to 4-5 cups of coffee.

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Timing of eating and drinking is also a major factor and just as important as what is consumed. Eating large meals just prior to sleep could cause gastrointestinal disturbance and disrupt sleep. Foods you know cause indigestion, bloating, heart burn, and gas, and foods that may cause uneasiness (like spicy foods) could upset the stomach and prevent sleep. If you find yourself wanting a snack before bed time try a slice of whole wheat toast with a small amount of peanut butter or a glass of low fat milk.

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As much as the foods you eat can induce sleepiness, they can also fuel you up to remain awake and alert. Breakfast truly is the most important part of the day. Starting your day with a well-balanced breakfast within an hour of waking can help you start your day off on the right foot. Rather than eating three larger meals hours apart, try having smaller more frequent meals to keep your energy levels steady throughout the day. You could switch a burger and fries out for a turkey sandwich with baby carrots and a pear. Larger meals tend to deplete the brain of blood flow and redirect it towards the stomach to focus on digestion, thus causing fatigue. Eating smaller more frequent meals might take some additional planning. Having nonperishable snacks on hand and a well-insulated lunch cooler is a great starting point!

As you can see sleep and nutrition are very reliant upon each other. There are multiple ways they can each affect the other and there are way to improve our systems to get the most out of our days and nights. So, how will you sleep tonight?

Written by: Amanda Harrison, UHC Peer Nutrition Educator
For more nutrition tips, visit the University Health Center’s Health Promotion Department online!
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