How to eat well to sleep well
There is a difference between eating healthy and eating right for your body.
I'm not going to tell you to eat turkey and drink milk and so on to sleep better. The ways food nourishes our body are more complicated than that. I want to dive deeper into how to find out which foods are best for your individual body so that you can be healthy and sleep well.
This week, I'm going to tell you:
the importance of keeping your blood sugar levels steady
why you want to avoid foods you’re sensitive to
how to balance your macronutrients for your metabolism
why low-carb, low fat and plant-based diets and intermittent fasting aren't good for you if you have trouble sleeping
I’ll start with the importance of having steady blood sugar levels.
When your blood sugar levels fluctuate from extremely high to extremely low, you’re on a blood sugar roller coaster. When levels get too high, your body releases insulin and cortisol to lower your blood sugar.
If you’re on the roller coaster during the day, that continues into the night. When your blood sugar levels drop too low during the night, your body feels stressed and then releases cortisol (your stress hormone) which wakes you up. You feel wired and awake from that cortisol. This is a common reason why many of my clients wake up around 2am and have a hard time falling back asleep. That's why it's important to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day so they stay steady at night as well.
The key to maintaining steady levels is to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars in pasta, bread, pastries, candy, and sweets, etc. If you do decide to eat those, it’s important to make sure that you eat them with fat and protein to even out the blood sugar spike.
Even if you don’t eat many carbs or refined foods, your blood sugar system could be dysregulated from other systems in your body being out of balance, especially your hormones.
If you have blood sugar issues, a snack before bed can keep your blood sugar from falling too low at night and waking you up. Shoot for 100-200 calories with complex carbohydrates and protein and fat. Think an apple and almond butter or crackers and cheese.
When you eat foods you’re sensitive to, it causes constant, low-grade inflammation in your body. When your body is inflamed, it releases cortisol because it’s an anti-inflammatory hormone. When that happens in the night, cortisol wakes you up and makes it hard to go back to sleep.
Even “healthy” and easy to digest foods like rice and broccoli can sabotage your sleep if your body doesn’t like those foods. Some of my clients start sleeping better just by changing their diet and avoiding foods they’re sensitive to.
You can find out even more about food sensitivities in this blog post.
If you’ve tried everything to figure out your insomnia and nothing has worked, I’m here for you.
Eating the correct balance of macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) for your metabolism and body is key to being healthy, keeping your blood sugar levels steady and sleeping well.
According to the metabolic typing diet, there are 3 types of ideal diets: protein, carbohydrate and mixed. Each type has its ideal ratios of fat, protein and carbs that you should eat.
If your body is meant to run on more carbs for fuel and you’re giving it too much fat and protein, it will make you feel tired and cause cravings for sweets.
If your body needs more protein and fat for fuel and you eat too many carbs, it’s like injecting rocket fuel into your system. Your energy spikes, which can feel like anxiety, and eventually crashes, making you feel tired and depleted. This roller coaster ride triggers hormone fluctuations and energy deficits that can cause weight gain and poor sleep.
I ask my clients to find out their metabolic type. Then I take it one step further to individualize their diet even more because everyone’s body is different. I give them a Food Balance Log to use to keep track of how they feel after every meal. If a carb type feels wired but tired or wants to take a nap, they may have eaten too many carbohydrates. If a protein type has sweet cravings, she’s eaten too much fat and protein. If she needs to snack within an hour or two of eating, she may have had too many carbohydrates or not enough food.
Assessing how you feel after each meal and then fine-tuning your food ratios based on your body’s feedback will help you figure out your perfect ratios so you have energy all day and sleep well at night. Grab a copy of the Food Balance Log so you can find your ideal diet, too!
Vegetarian, vegan and low-fat diets aren’t the best for good sleep.
The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are found exclusively in animal foods. These vitamins help make a lot of our hormones and neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin and melatonin, that help us feel good and sleep. You can't get all of these necessary nutrients from a plant-based diet.
You don't have to eat a lot of "meat" as we think of it (steak, chicken breast, etc.) to get these nutrients. But I do recommend plenty of animal foods in the form of fats (like butter and full-fat dairy), eggs and organ meats to be healthy and sleep well!
You can read more about the problems with plant-based diets for sleep.
Low-carb and ketogenic diets can also ruin your sleep. Everyone is different and these diets are not good for everyone. You want to have carbohydrates at night so that your body releases insulin. Insulin helps clear out the amino acids that compete with tryptophan. At night, you want tryptophan because it converts to serotonin and melatonin so you can relax and go to sleep.
Intermittent fasting has become a new health craze, especially for weight loss and to stabilize blood sugar. I do think it can benefit healthy people, but I also believe that it can be harmful if you aren’t in perfect health, especially if you aren’t sleeping. If you’re hungry first thing in the morning, your body is telling you that it needs fuel. If you ignore it, your blood sugar will drop, your body is going to feel stressed and it will release stress hormones like cortisol. If you aren’t sleeping well already, that excess cortisol is going to put your body even more out of whack and interfere with your sleep the next night. Adding intermittent fasting to insomnia is more stress than the body can handle. Your health will keep spiraling downward even though you’re trying to improve it.
I hope you’ve learned this week how much food and sleep are complicated and intertwined. Figuring out your perfect diet based on ,food sensitivities, your metabolic type and blood sugar regulation will help you feel better, sleep better and improve your health.
I know how much not being able to sleep sucks! After figuring out why I couldn’t sleep and correcting it, I'm on a mission to help as many people as possible get the sleep they need so they can live happy, healthy and rested lives.
If you struggle to sleep, you don’t have to live with insomnia forever. If your doctor and your psychologist can’t help you, I can! I’ve been studying nutrition, sleep and functional lab testing for years so I can help you find out what’s causing your insomnia and tell you exactly how to restore your health so you can sleep like a normal person. Book a call with me to find out the exact steps you can take to overcome your sleep issues permanently and naturally!