Sleep better: Do not play with food

Good choices on what you eat are just equally important as when you do it

Tick, tock, tick, tock…. having trouble sleeping? Who should blame? It was a hard day in the office, so that’s why you are stressed out and can’t sleep. Or perhaps, your mobile phone is fooling you: it is so intelligent that it knows exactly what streaming series you love. What about that big meal you ate two hours ago? It was too much, indeed. But what’s the matter? Food goes with diet and weight. Sleep is another tale, doesn’t it?

Sleeping is a must

We can love many things. And still, no doubt, sleeping is one of those top list items that most people find pleasure to do, just like eating.

Long and restful sleep nights are a crucial cornerstone of a good life. And certainly, it’s not for nothing that we spend more than 30 % of our lives sleeping like babies.

Sleep is a biological process that any human needs to survive. When we sleep, our body carries out many chores that keep our inner home clean and safe. A solid night’s rest charges our body and enables us to perform well throughout the day.

Unfortunately, millions of people don’t sleep properly and suffer from negative consequences. Whatever the reason, poor sleep affects how we feel and think. Besides, it can make us sick. Long-term sleep problems increase our risk of obesity, blood pressure, heart attack, and other serious illness.

In short, sleep is essential for our body, but it’s important to sleep well too. How much, how, and when we sleep are clue elements of the whole sleeping package.

All in time

Every simple thing in the universe, even on Earth, is bounded to time. Time plays a crucial role in human life, and so it does in our bodies.

Many body functions, such as sleep, occur at certain times and not at others, according to internal clocks.

So, how do these body clocks work? Thousands of hidden clocks inside our bodies are programmed into a nearly 24-hour cycle known as circadian rhythms. These natural rhythms orchestrate vital activities that happen daily in our heart, pancreas, skin, lungs, etc.

But just like an orchestra, the sound of ticks of clocks has to be in harmony to coordinate all our activities. To make that goal possible, body clocks collect information from what is around us, such as sunlight, and align their time to the outside world.

Moving with the rhythm of light

Humans are diurnal animals. This means that we are usually awake during the day and asleep at night. Thus, how does our body know when to sleep and when to be out of bed? The answer is simple: light.

Light influences the timing of our body clock and sets up when actions have to start and end. By releasing chemicals, our bodies turn light signals into cyclical tasks that keep us alive and healthy.

So, when we open our eyes in the first hours of the morning, the sunlight lets us know it is time to wake up. As the day goes on and the lights turn off, our bodies release melatonin, making us feel sleepy and less alert.

All this process starts in our eyes, specifically in the retina. Just after the retina receives light, an electric signal travels to a distinct control center in our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, where the master of the circadian clock lives. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is not any ordinary route point. In fact, it tells us our body, whether it is day or night, and sets our sleep schedule. What’s more, it sends signals to other parts of our brain and body organs to sync all internal clocks with the hours of daylight and darkness.

Figure 2: Light has a powerful effect on the setting of our body clock that causes many physiological processes to fluctuating in 24 hours cycles.

Chemicals in action

To wind up body clocks, our brain regulates the production of different substances. One of them is melatonin. Known as “the darkness hormone,” melatonin levels rise in the evening and help us to fall asleep. However, this hormone doesn’t work alone.

There is another chemical named adenosine that also promotes sleep. While we are awake, adenosine builds up in the brain, causing to feel us more tired and less watchful by the end of our working or school day. The pressure finally concludes when we sleep. Both two chemicals decrease, so we are full of energy to start in the morning.

Running out the clock

Light is the most dominant timekeeping clue that regulates our bodies’ clocks. However, other stimuli like temperature, social contact, and food can keep our circadian rhythms running on schedule, or else, just light does too, oscillating off time.

As if our bodies’ clocks were orchestra performers, we would expect that every part makes the correct moves to play a wonderful piece of music. In a similar way, our bodies’ clocks need to work in unison to get the best results. Whereas if one part doesn’t tick normally, it may disrupt the rest and can upset normal body functions like it happens in cancer or diabetes.

So clock misalignments are the result of parts conflicts. But they also may occur when external cues give us the “wrong time.” For example, taking a plane to move across time zones can mismatch our body clock from the exterior world. The same case occurs to late-night workers whose schedules keep them wide awake in the dark hours.

The timing of our body clocks is fundamental for our health, and problems might happen when our bodies’ clocks aren’t accordingly tuned.

Misaligned bodies’ clocks can affect all the natural processes that depend on these clocks, such as sleep. Sleeping too little, waking up many times at night, or having trouble falling asleep are some common signs that might show up when our bodies’ clocks get confused.

Figure 3: When people move across several time zones in a quite short time, their sleep-wake patterns mismatch with their biological clock. This can cause sleep disorders, commonly known as jet lags.

Making out the right combinations

In the grand scheme of life, plenty of factors can interfere with our precious sleep. Food is one of them.

Would you like to drink a cup of coffee before going under the covers? Or, do you prefer drinking it in the morning? What’s the difference? Well, we are all so worried about what’s on our menu. Still, we rarely think that when we eat is equally important for our diet and, of course, for our wellbeing. They are both two sides of the same coin.

First, let’s focus on what’s on our plate or, rather said, what’s in our cup.

It’s late at night. Your eyes weigh as never do. But still, you have to do some work before sleep, or otherwise, things will turn heavy in the morning. There’s no more time. You must decide what’s the next move: should you drink a cup of coffee and risk being fully awake all night long? What a tough decision!

It’s well known that drinking coffee affects our bodies’ clocks and boosts our energy stock. That’s because of caffeine, the most popular stimulant on our planet. Caffeine acts by blocking the sense points of adenosine located in our brain. Due to our body detecting less adenosine, we feel sharpy and full of life to do whatever we want.

Conversely, having a warm mug of milk can help sleep. This ordinary drink is a rich source of tryptophan which our bodies use to produce the darkness hormone. Do you remember it? Melatonin. The reason why people feel drowsy as the day draws to a close.

Take a look at our meals, recognizing what foods can aid us in sleep and those that might not, will have a big impact on how well we deal with our day. By the same token, time restrictions on our daily intake should also be included in our checklist.

As previously mentioned, our bodies’ clocks align with daily changes in the environment to synchronize all body activities. Either light or food sends messages to our body and alerts it when it’s the moment to work instead of resting. In this context, the time we eat can move body clocks to one side or another, greatly affecting our sleep.

One tip: be consistent with your mealtimes. Consistency is one main component of the entire sleep guideline. Why? Because our bodies love to be one step further from what we do, and the only way to get it is when we stick to a routine. Eating our meals at certain times every day can lead to a better night’s sleep.

Another tip? Adjust your mealtimes with sunlight and darkness. Although food sets our body time, light is a more dominant signal. Hence, it all starts with the first sunlight rays. Our bodies are prepared to digest food better when there’s still light. Larger meals are quite more appropriate earlier in the day. However, we should fast and wait for the next day to eat when the dark hours come. With this in mind, no more accurate saying than: ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.’

Just remember, beware of the food you eat and when, working together with your body’s clocks will let you sleep better and live better too.

Good night and sweet dreams!

Figure 4: Good eating habits, including the right food at the right times, can help get better quality rest.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store