If you have sleep problems, I want you to take a minute to think about your food cravings. You most likely want to eat carbs, sugar, and fast food.
Sure, they can be tasty, but they’re completely void of nutrition. And it’s also very likely that you’ll eat more of these foods than you should.
This hunger response to sleeplessness has been well documented, and unfortunately, these food choices prompt exactly what you don’t want: Poor sleep. And they’re even more disruptive when consumed close to bedtime.
If you feel caught up in a similar self-perpetuating cycle, it’s almost impossible to escape it. Modifying your sleep (which may become more and more elusive) seems nearly inconceivable.
But what you can modify is your diet.
Fortunately, the latest research has found that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you can find your way out of this mess. All you have to do is incorporate more high-quality protein into your diet.
Breaking free from the no-sleep cycle
University of Nebraska-Lincoln research reveals the powerful biological mechanisms set in motion by just one night of poor sleep:
- Appetite controlling hormones are disrupted
- Emotional stress increases
- Impulsivity overrides moderation
- Lack of energy boosts food cravings
As a result, we tend to “comfort foods” — and too much of them. However, that comfort is fleeting — requiring another coffee, sugar-spiked doughnut, or highly processed cheeseburger to provide you with temporary surges of energy.
Research from Perdue University reveals the benefits a high-protein diet can have on breaking free of poor sleep and bad dietary choices.
A pair of clinical trials began with a four-week pilot study in which a high protein diet produced weight-loss and better sleep in 14 participants. And in a follow up study, 44 overweight volunteers followed either a normal-protein diet or a higher-protein diet designed for weight loss. They also enjoyed an improvement in sleep quality three to four months after starting their dietary intervention.
As one of the study authors concludes, the main takeaway is this: “We found that while consuming a lower calorie diet with a higher amount of protein, sleep quality improves for middle-age adults.”
It’s all about the adrenal glands
In Dr. Fred Pescatore’s Perfect Sleep Protocol, he goes into even more specifics by outlining the exact steps you can take to break out of this cycle.
The key, he says, is to support your adrenal glands. These glands help regulate your metabolism, blood pressure, and control your stress response. And they can easily become burned out after working overtime to help you get through one fatigued day after another.
And the first step he recommends is right in line with the Perdue research: Eat the right types of foods.
He explains that when you’re dragging yourself through the day after a night of poor sleep, you naturally crave “pick-me-ups” like candy bars and sugary coffee drinks.
“But these kinds of temporary fixes,” he says, “will only throw your blood sugar into a tailspin. Which, in turn, disrupts your hormone balance. And, ultimately, puts even more pressure on your adrenals.”
Dr. Pescatore recommends these two easy steps you can start today:
- Cut out sugars and grains
- Fill your diet with protein, vegetables, and healthy fats
According to Dr. Pescatore, these three food types — protein, vegetables, and healthy fats —help normalize your blood sugar, restore your hormone balance, and ease the burden on your adrenals. And just by simply making the right dietary choices, you can enjoy better quality, more restful sleep in just a few nights.
To eat, or not to eat
In addition to what you eat, Dr. Pescatore also notes that when you eat is also very important. In fact, he believes you should never discount “the energizing power of a well-timed meal.”
Dr. Pescatore explains that your body’s internal clock — the circadian rhythm that regulates your sleep/wake cycles — is strongly influenced by your eating schedule. And the key here is insulin.
Dr. Pescatore cites research that shows how adjusting the timing of meals keeps your insulin release on a steady schedule, which in turn, helps reset your internal clock and realigns your sleep schedule.
To do this, Dr. Pescatore offers up these three tips:
- Space meals and midday snacks at least three hours apart to avoid impulsive “quick fixes.”
- Don’t eat heavy dinners. Keep your caloric intake modest with a variety of high-quality, fresh whole foods to balance out your metabolic response.
- Don’t eat after 7:00 PM.
And above all else, Dr. Pescatore strongly encourages his patients to completely discontinue use of prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids as soon as possible. In his Perfect Sleep Protocol, he explains how regular use of these drugs make your sleep life (and your waking life) even worse.
If you feel like you need a little help dozing off, he offers several recommendations for sleep aids that are effective, non-habit forming, and won’t make you groggy the next day. Click here to read more about — or enroll in — Dr. Pescatore’s online learning tool to get the best sleep you’ve ever had, night after night.
“Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults” Journal of Health Psychology 2015; 20(6): 794-805. DOI: 10.1177/1359105315573427
“Losing weight with a high-protein diet can help adults sleep better” Science Daily, 3/24/16. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160324133028.htm)