In recent years, scientists have been rigorously investigating what happens when we sleep and how our minds and bodies react to getting too little – or indeed, too much – shut-eye. What they’ve discovered is that not only is sleep is as important as food and physical fitness when it comes to longevity and wellbeing, but that the three are intertwined and impact each other in ways we are only beginning to understand.
Here is how experts think the three pillars of health work synergistically to keep us at our best:
Sleep and Diet:
Sleep and your waistline: Dozens of published studies have shown that the disrupted sleep cycles of shift workers can lead to poor diet, metabolic problems and weight gain. And the scientific consensus is that adults who sleep for less than five or six hours a night are more likely to be overweight. Five years ago, a study at the University of Colorado suggested that missing just a few hours of sleep for several nights in a row could lead to almost immediate weight gain. There’s no single reason why this happens, but evidence points to behavioural changes we make when we skimp on sleep – we eat more of the foods we shouldn’t such as sugary and refined carbohydrates and fatty, processed foods.
Good sleep foods: When it comes to improving your sleep through diet, there are lots of steps you can take. There are the more obvious actions – avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, sugary drinks and too much alcohol within a couple of hours of bedtime – but also more unexpected dietary tweaks that can enhance your sleep. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating higher-glycaemic carbohydrates such as jasmine rice or breakfast cereal around lunchtime can halve the time it takes to fall asleep because these foods increase the amount of the sleep-inducing hormone tryptophan in the blood. The Sleep Council, a trade body, once recommended “sleep sandwich” of banana (rich in magnesium and potassium, which help relax muscles), Marmite (rich in B vitamins, which assist the release of tryptophan in the brain) and lettuce. Failing that, try eating kiwi fruit, rich in the relaxing hormone serotonin, an hour before bedtime. They have been shown to help people nod off more quickly.