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Battling Insomnia While On A Diet

Written by Rama Manikumar on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • As a general rule, a balanced diet made up largely of a variety of vegetables and fruits is able to provide the recommended daily intake of vitamins and nutrients, contributing to better sleep while promoting a healthy weight.
  • Keeping a predictable sleep pattern by going to bed at the same time each night can help, just as creating a soothing bedtime routine will slow your body down and help you relax.
  • Good sleep hygiene is important because of how crucial getting good sleep is for your mental and physical health, as well as your overall quality of life.
  • Your behavior and habits during the day โ€” not just before you go to bed โ€” can also affect how well you sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine before going to sleep.
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Sleep is one of the most important needs in life to function efficiently. Without sleep, it is quite probable for a person to break down mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, lack of concentration, and sluggishness, among other things. Sleep is, therefore, essential for existence.

The Statistics

Insomnia can affect overall health

Consistent insomnia can have a serious impact on the overall health of an individual. Short sleep duration and sleep disruptions are associated with cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and depression as well.

It is not uncommon for people to lose sleep while following a certain diet. Various factors can cause sleeplessness during the diet, such as ketosis, consumption of weight loss pills, excessive consumption of caffeine in the form of coffee or soda, thyroid problems, consumption of alcohol, and/or dominance of estrogen.

Lack of proper and adequate sleep can often lead to fatigue and irritability. Levels of sleep problems in Asia and Africa are approaching those seen in developed nations, linked to an increase in conditions like depression and anxiety, say researchers from the University of Warwick.

One of the most striking elements of the analysis was the difference in the pattern among countries: Bangladesh, South Africa, and Vietnam had extremely high levels of sleep problems, in some cases surpassing the corresponding numbers in the West. The rate of sleeplessness in women of Bangladesh is 43.9%, more than twice the rate in developed countries and far higher than the 23.6% seen in men.

Vietnam too had very high rates of sleep problems: 37.6% in women and 28.5% in men. Conversely, India and Indonesia reported relatively low levels of severe sleep problems at 6.5% in Indian women and 4.3% in Indian men. Indonesian men reported a 3.9% rate of sleep problems whereas their women showed a 4.6% rate of sleep problems.

Research also found a higher prevalence of sleep problems in women and older age groups, consistent with patterns found in developed countries.

Mindful eating: How does diet affect sleep?

It is important to be aware about the type of food and exercise while one is trying to lose weight.

Liquids: Drinking excessive water in order to feel satiated and reduce the feeling of hunger can lead to multiple trips to the washroom that can disrupt the sleep cycle. To manage this situation, larger quantities of water should not be had for a couple of hours before bedtime. Morning time is considered the best to drink maximum water to help reduce water weight.

Sleeping hungry: Several measures are taken, in order to lose weight which importantly includes early dinner and avoiding bedtime snacks. When the body is left feeling hungry, it becomes difficult to find peace and relax. This can cause anxiety and loss of sleep.

Eating a small but healthy snack before bedtime can be a suitable solution for this issue. Granola and yogurt work well as healthy snacks; cheese slices, chicken, or turkey are also known as sleep-inducing foods.

Exercise routine: Exercise is a major component of a weight loss regime. However, exercise if done during the late evening hours can drive away sleep due to excessive stimulation and excitement.

Morning or mid-day routines for exercises work best. Calming exercises like yoga or stretching are conducive before bedtime.

Consumption of large meals for dinner: Large and heavy meals near bedtime often cause indigestion and discomfort. It is advisable to eat light throughout the day in small intervals and be mindful of liquid intake during the late evening hours.

Why is caffeine a temptation for weight loss

Caffeine supposedly aids weight loss through appetite suppression and calorie burning. Hence, quite often, individuals on diet prefer a caffeine drink over a meal or a snack. Caffeine may reduce hunger pangs and also the desire to eat for a longer duration of time. Caffeine also appears to increase energy use even when you're at rest. It stimulates thermogenesis, a way in which body generates heat and energy from digesting food.

However, too much caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, nausea, increased blood pressure and other problems. This may lead to disrupted sleep pattern and can reverse the effects of diet and weight loss.

Watch that sugar intake

Eating an inappropriate food item before bedtime can increase your blood sugar levels. When blood sugar increases, insulin is released in the blood stream, leading to a drop in your blood sugar levels, which in turn results in the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. And these hormones interfere with the sleep.

However, fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugars are not likely to affect sleep like food containing added sugars do. Because natural sugars are also accompanied by a high fiber content, the absorption of sugar is relatively low, not leading to a spike in your blood sugar levels.

Let's Look At It the Other Way Around

Sleep loss can hamper even the best attempts to lose weight in spite of eating less and watching your diet carefully. Sleep loss can prevent fat loss and make the body stingier when it comes to using fat as fuel. Sleep loss slows down fat loss and leads to undesirable loss of lean body mass.

Hence, certain ground rules have been laid by experts, so as to avoid some of the grave mistakes while being on a diet and losing out on sleep which is a crucial component of weight loss.

  • Do not eat for at least four hours before bedtime
  • Sleeping slows down the metabolism hence it is important to be mindful about the food or drinks that are consumed before bedtime
  • Exercise is good for sleep as well as weight loss; however, it should not be done right before bedtime as it can act as a stimulate and interfere with the sleep schedule.

If an individual is on a diet regime and trying to lose weight, insomnia can flip the metabolism which can devastatingly lead to loss of protein instead of fat loss. Such a situation can be quite disturbing for people who are obese and weight loss is a health priority.

Worst foods for sleep health

worst foods for sleep health

1. Caffeinated foods and beverages: Although caffeinated foods and beverages seem quite tempting for the boost of instant energy that they provide, they also lead to overstimulation which can hamper the sleep pattern and sleep cycle.

This lack of sleep due to caffeine consumption may lead to drinking a lot of caffeine the next day to overcome the feelings of tiredness, and this in turn can negatively affect the next night's sleep as well. Some people refer to this cycle as the coffee cycle.

Foods that contain caffeine include:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, including decaf
  • Foods with kola nut ingredient
  • Black tea & green tea
  • Guarana
  • Yerba mate
  • Energy drinks
  • Desserts that contain coffee such as tiramisu

2. Spicy foods: Spicy foods are one of the main reasons for causing indigestion and heartburn. Severe symptoms of acid reflux can most certainly disrupt sleep and keep you awake at night. Hence, it is always a good practice to steer clear of spicy food before bedtime. Eating spicy food can also increase the core body temperature for a while. An increase in body temperature negatively impacts sleep hygiene.

3. Foods with added sugars and high glycemic index: Foods with high glycemic indexes rapidly increase blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that consuming added sugar and refined carbs is associated with poor sleep quality.

4. Fatty foods: Higher fat intake right before bedtime can disrupt sleeping patterns. Fried chicken and fatty meats are a few of the main culprits here. This may be because metabolism slows down during sleep, and eating a heavy fatty meal can overwhelm the digestive system, leading to the discomfort that may not allow peaceful sleep. Additionally, high-fat foods also exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux which can have negative effects on the sleep cycle.

5. Processed foods: Processed foods, however healthy they claim to be, may not be the best choice for a good night's sleep. Processed foods are well known for reducing sleep duration and leading to waking up mid-sleep. Ultra-processed and packaged foods can also lead to weight gain due to the high content of saturated and trans fats, and it is well established that obesity or being overweight can cause insomnia and other health issues. Therefore, cutting back on processed and packaged food will be beneficial for your overall health, and weight management as well as for inducing a better night's sleep.

6. Alcoholic drinks: Alcohol is quite extensively used to relax and unwind after a long day at work. Alcohol is also disguised as a sleep aid as it helps to fall asleep quickly. However, evidence shows that even though it helps you sleep quickly, drinking alcoholic beverages can cause sleep disturbances later at night and cause you to wake up mid-sleep. It significantly disrupts the sleep cycle, once the blood alcohol level starts to decline.

Because alcohol is so strongly related to insomnia, doctors usually recommend avoiding alcohol before bedtime, as a part of insomnia treatment.

Best foods for sleep

Best foods for sleep

Researchers, including nutritionists and sleep experts, have conducted different types of studies to try to discover the best foods for sleep. While this research provides important clues, it's not conclusive. In general, there's a lack of direct evidence about specific foods that are good for sleep.

In addition, the range of varieties of cultivars of most foods means that their nutrient profile can be inconsistent. For example, some varieties of red grapes have high levels of melatonin while others have virtually none.

That said, there is evidence that some foods can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. Sometimes this is based on a particular research study and in other cases on the underlying nutritional components of the food or drink.

Choice of food affects more than just energy and sleepiness; they can play a major role in things like weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar levels just to name a few. For that reason, it's best to consult with a doctor or dietician before making significant changes to your daily diet. Doing so helps ensure that your food choices support not just your sleep but all of your other health priorities as well.

While battling insomnia, incorporating foods packed with magnesium or melatonin could help you fall asleep naturally.

1. Walnuts: These nuts have a high component of melatonin that improves the body's circadian rhythm, optimizing wakefulness during the day and sleepiness at night. Melatonin-rich foods should be consumed two hours before bedtime for optimal effect.

2. Olives: Foods rich in healthy fats like olives stabilize the blood sugar levels and help you feel fuller for a longer duration.

3. Wild cut salmon: This contains melatonin and tryptophan which double up as a sleeping aid.

4. Popcorn: Popcorn is a complex carb that boosts the levels of serotonin and induces calmness and sleep.

5. Sunflower seeds: These seeds are high in complex carbs, and proteins and are an excellent source of magnesium which improves sleep quality.

6. Cherries: Cherries are rich in magnesium and induce sleep.

7. Steel-cut oats: High in complex carbs, melatonin, and tryptophan, steel-cut oats make an excellent snack to fight insomnia.

8. Chicken: Chicken contains tryptophan. Dietary tryptophan ultimately gets synthesized into serotonin and leads to relaxation.

9. Coconut: It is high in magnesium.

10. Avocado: Avocados are rich in healthy fats and magnesium so they make an excellent snack before bedtime.

Food Practices That Can Be Incorporated To Combat Insomnia

  • Reduce the dosage of the diet pill or change the time of consumption
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks before bedtime
  • Sublingual melatonin can be taken to induce sleep
  • Progesterone cream can help individuals with excessive estrogen production
  • Create a practical and comfortable bedtime routine with respect to time and activities like meditation
  • Avoid consuming any food at least 2 hours before bedtime

For people struggling to eat appropriately while battling insomnia, a simple diet fix as explained can go a long way.

How To Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene?

  • Retire for bed only when you feel tired
  • Avoid daytime naps
  • Follow a wake-up schedule irrespective of weekdays and weekends
  • Refrain from having coffee, nicotine, and alcohol at night
  • Avoid any eating, reading, or screen time in bed
  • Practice a bedtime routine every night
  • Refrain from performing rigorous exercises for three hours before bedtime
  • Get out of bed when unable to fall asleep.

Conclusion

Insomnia can hamper day-to-day activities and affect your quality of life. Lack of sleep, or even being unable to stay asleep, can be frustrating and can lead to fatigue and irritability. Insomnia associated with dieting can be caused by diet pills, ketosis (the metabolic process your body goes through to burn fat), caffeine from coffee or soda, thyroid issues, alcohol, and/or estrogen dominance.

Food containing high fiber, vitamins, and minerals can help fix the hunger pangs in this condition. It also provides the necessary means for your body to function and is the best food for sleep.

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Rama Manikumar

Rama is a nutritionist and a lifestyle consultant. Having worked in the health industry for more than 20 years, her expertise in health and well-being brings a fresh and healthy approach to everyday habits- food and lifestyle. She walks the talk and delivers excellent quality nutrition, and helps develop habits that peak health & Well- being. Rama Holds a Batchelorโ€™s degree in Biology; Extended/Specialized degree in Nutrition & Dietetics (Pennsylvania State Univ. USA).

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