• The Sound Sleeper

Time your meals and your body will thank you

It’s not only what you eat but when you eat that can affect your sleep. Your circadian rhythm — your body’s 24-hour sleep-wake time clock — is linked to your metabolism. Learning how best to time your meals will not only help you sleep better but will also allow you to maintain a healthier weight.

Timing is everything

Your body, guided by its circadian rhythm, is better prepared to digest food and regulate blood sugar during daylight hours. Common wisdom tells us to make breakfast our largest meal of the day because daytime is when we need the energy we get from food. A late dinner, on the other hand, provides energy that signals to your body that you’re trying to stay awake, which is self-defeating when you’re getting ready for bed.

Eating a large meal too close to bedtime also means your body will be digesting while you’re trying to sleep, which makes it harder to get quality sleep. You especially want to steer clear of late night spicy or fatty foods, which can cause acid reflux, another sleep disrupter. Allowing at least three to four hours to digest a large meal before going to bed will help your body sail through its natural processes.

It's about biology

Two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, work in concert while we sleep. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that stimulates your appetite, increases your food intake and promotes fat storage. A good night’s sleep keeps this hormone in check. Leptin, on the other hand, sends the message that you’re full, and it, too, is regulated through proper sleep. A lack of sleep gives you more ghrelin (more hunger) and less leptin (less appetite suppressant) and a pathway to weight gain.

Late-night munchies

When we’re not sleeping well, we also tend to crave foods high in saturated fat late at night (think pizza and chicken wings!). That tendency stems from the effect poor sleep has on our metabolism. So not only are we feeling hungrier from a lack of sleep, we’re craving foods higher in calories at a time when we’re sedentary and not able to use this energy from food — a recipe for increased body fat and even obesity.

Staying up late also presents more opportunities to eat and fall victim to fatty foods. The healthier approach — from the perspective of your metabolism and your sleep -— is to go to bed at a reasonable hour to get your full seven to nine hours of sleep.

More about metabolism

One more consideration with meal timing: more and more studies are suggesting that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Since sleep loss can alter glucose metabolism, this connection makes sense. So to create the balance your body needs, eat at the proper time and get the right amount of sleep — and your body will thank you.

Work with your body, not against it

Follow these tried-and-true tips to avoid sleep disruptions from food and beverages:
  • Try to eat during daylight hours and fast when it’s dark (that’s why “breakfast” literally means breaking your fast).
  • Cut off caffeinated beverage consumption at least seven hours before bedtime. And don’t forget that dark chocolate contains caffeine (12 mg. per oz.) as well as decaffeinated coffee (9 mg. per 8 oz. cup).
  • While alcohol can make you sleepy, it can also disrupt your sleep cycle, so avoid drinking it three hours before bedtime.
  • If you must have a snack before bedtime, go for something small and nutritious, like a banana with a few almonds.

Sources: Sleep Foundation; Prevention; Bandín, C, et al. (2015) Meal timing affects glucose tolerance, substrate oxidation and circadian-related variables, Int J Obes; Beccuti, G, et al. (2017) Timing of food intake: Sounding the alarm about metabolic impairments? A systematic review, Pharmacological Research; Spaeth, A, et al. (2013) Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults, SLEEP; Wehrens, S, et al. (2017) Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System, Curr Biol.

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