How much you sleep affects almost every tissue and cell in your body. Sleep is essential because it allows the brain and body to rest and repair after working hard throughout the day.
It affects so many processes, from how well your immune system and cardiovascular system function to how you feel mentally. Things like appetite, hormone levels, blood pressure, mood, energy, and attention span all rely on adequate amounts of sleep to function properly.
So how much sleep do you need?
Most adults do best with about 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night. Anyone less than 18 years of age needs more than that though: teenagers need 8-10 hours, adolescents need 10-13 hours, and babies need 12-16 hours.
Not getting a full night of sleep every now and again is unavoidable, but chronic sleep deprivation affects mental capabilities and can contribute to serious health complications, like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and a weakened immune system.
And sleep quality, not just the hours, is something to consider as well. If during the day you feel tired, have poor concentration, or slow thinking, it could indicate you're not sleeping well.
Sleep and nutrition
Sleep and nutrition have a bidirectional relationship. That is, what you eat can affect how you sleep, and how you sleep affects what you eat.
The main food that affects sleep is sugar and processed carbohydrates. They’ve been shown to increase the number of awakenings per night and decrease the amount of deep sleep you get . This means that if you find yourself having trouble sleeping through the night, try cutting back on sugar and high carbohydrate foods (like processed snack items, sugary drinks, desserts) and see if it makes a difference in your sleep quality.
Sleep affects what you want to eat, too. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase cravings for sugar, fat, and sodium. And production of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones responsible for hunger and fullness cues, are affected even after short periods of inadequate sleep .
If sleep is something you struggle with, diet can certainly play a role in helping improve it. The “Mediterranean diet”, which includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, quality protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, has been found to improve sleep quality.
Other factors that can affect sleep
Too hot or too cold conditions can affect sleep. The optimal temperature for a good night’s rest is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Morning light exposure
Going outside for 5-10 minutes after waking up has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. Morning sunlight resets your circadian rhythm and tells your pituitary gland to stop producing melatonin and increase serotonin production, making you feel more alert. Morning sunlight has also been shown to increase production of melatonin at night, helping you fall asleep easier.
Nighttime light exposure
Since our bodies use light as a cue of what to do (darkness tells it to prepare for sleep, bright light tells it to stay awake), being surrounded by bright lights at night can impair sleep. Try to use softer lighting from lamps or candles instead of bright overhead light, and if you like to watch TV or be on screens at night consider blue light glasses, which block the stimulating blue light from entering your eyes.
Magnesium, also known as the “relaxation mineral”, helps muscles relax and may help regulate the neurotransmitters that are directly related to sleep . Taking a magnesium supplement before bedtime may help you sleep better.
If you’re constantly struggling with sleep, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. These conditions can require medial treatment to improve symptoms.
Getting adequate sleep is an important part of health. To feel your best, you have to rest properly.
Nutrition and sleep are proven to be linked; eating a healthy diet and getting in all the necessary vitamins and minerals each day can help you sleep better. There are also many non-nutrition factors that affect sleep like light exposure, room temperature, stress, and sleep disorders.
Minimizing light exposure before bedtime (especially from electronics), sleeping in a cool, dark room, having a consistent sleep schedule, and trying to wind down before bed can all improve sleep quality.
If you struggle with a sleep disorder like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, it’s important to visit your doctor as medical treatment could be required.
Suni, E., & Truong , K. (2022, April 22). Nutrition and sleep: Diet's effect on sleep. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition
Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012, December). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/
Written by: Kate Barton, B.S Food Science and Human Nutrition.