In episode 138 of his video series, Dr. Larson discusses:
As I have talked about in the past, it takes a multi-faceted approach to prevent cardiometabolic illnesses like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. There was a study published just a couple of days ago in the Journal of the American Heart Association that looked very specifically at sleep quality and quantity, and how it relates to dietary choices. There are many things that we know influence risk factors for cardiometabolic illnesses like what you eat, your activity level, and the quality and quantity of sleep you get. This study focused on dietary choices and how they correlate to sleep.
A research team from Columbia University Irvine Medical Center took 495 racially diverse female participants, and they then evaluated their sleep. They then compared their sleep to their diet. What they found was that the greater the length of sleep onset latency (or how long it takes you to fall to sleep) the worse a woman’s dietary choices were and the more calories they consumed. If it took a woman more than sixty minutes to fall asleep, they consumed more calories than those who took less than fifteen minutes. Researchers also found that women who had insomnia, or fell asleep but couldn’t stay asleep, made poorer food choices. And they also consumed more calories than those who did not have insomnia.
We know that dietary choices are a key component to risk factors for cardiovascular disease. And although the study did show a correlation between what the women ate and their sleep patterns, it didn’t speak to what the causation was. In other words, although dietary choices and sleep quality and quantity are correlated, the study didn’t prove which factor led to the other. The study showed the less sleep a woman had, the poorer her dietary habits were. But although researchers found an association, the question remains, does poor sleep cause poor dietary choices. Or, is it that poor dietary choices cause poor sleep quality and quantity?
Science tells us that if you don’t get enough of, or the right quality of sleep, the production of hormones in the brain that signal we are full, are suppressed. While at the same time, not getting enough or good quality of sleep produces more of the hunger hormones that trigger us to eat. That means that you have to eat more for your brain to tell you that you are full, which can lead to overeating. We, likewise, know from research that the way that you eat can influence your sleep quality and quantity. If you are on a “carbage” diet (garbage carbs), then you are on a blood sugar roller coaster both day and night. As your blood sugar drops throughout the night, excitatory hormones are released that will wake you up and lead to poorer sleep quality. And if you eat right before bed, it will make you uncomfortable. When you are uncomfortable, it makes it more difficult to have quality sleep. I hope that this study will be the catalyst for trying to find sleep interventions that will ultimately improve people’s sleep through diet, and their diet through sleep.
I predict that what we will find with further research is that it is a vicious cycle. Sleep affects our dietary choices, and those dietary choices will affect sleep. When we try to treat it clinically, therefore, we have to address both aspects to get the best quality and quantity of sleep and to eat better. We know that doing things like keeping your room dark and not eating before bed will help your sleep quality. And we also know that limiting blue-light screen exposure before trying to go to sleep will help you fall asleep quicker and get better quality sleep. On the dietary end, it is important to choose the best type of foods and limit your carbohydrate intake. Also, proper hydration is very important for good dietary habits.
-Dr Chad Larson
So, overall the key to stopping the cycle of poor sleep followed by poor eating is to make sure that one isn’t constantly feeding off of the other. Since we know how important sleep is to overall health, risk factors for disease, and longevity, tackling your quality of sleep is imperative. And since we also know that eating right and maintaining a healthy weight is important to reduce your risk of cardio-metabolic disease, making sure to eat the right things is just as critical. If you can stop one, there is a good likelihood that you can stop the other. And the best news is that making small changes can tackle both risk factors and lead to a healthier you.