Food For Thought with Kat | Sweet, sweet sleep – Brattleboro Reformer

A few clouds. Low 44F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph..
A few clouds. Low 44F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: April 21, 2022 @ 9:21 pm

We know we need it … but most of us, if given the option, would opt out of sleep in favor of doing something else … sometimes anything else. So why then, do we sleep one-third of our lives away? What does it accomplish and how does it affect our health?
I made the connection between sleep and hunger levels while living my sleep-deprived youth in New York City. As long as I was in bed by one in the morning and awake at around 6:30 in time to get to work, I was good to go. I’d slog to the subway, breakfast sandwich and coffee in hand in time to get to work for my mid-morning snack — something highly processed, of course. Another snack before I made my way to lunch and a couple more would see me through until dinner and happy hour. The next day: another installment in the vicious cycle.
It wasn’t my imagination. When we are sleep deprived, and it doesn’t matter how old we are, we have less of the hormone that signals to our brain that we are full and satisfied (leptin) and more of the hormone that signals to our body that we are hungry (ghrelin). No wonder I was a bottomless pit!
Skinny sleep?To many of us, sleep can be seen as time spent not getting something done, but whilst we slumber, our body is very busy. Over a third of us don’t get enough sleep, which increases our risk for obesity. A 2020 analysis determined that adults who sleep less than seven hours a night increase their chances for obesity up to 41 percent. We increase our chances for Type 2 diabetes even more when we get fewer than five or six hours of sleep.
Not only does our brain shed toxins during sleep, but in a process called memory consolidation, sleep reportedly helps us to lock in pieces of information we’ve just learned or experienced. While many students stay up to cram for a test (I’m sure we’ve all done it) studies prove that people who slept after learning information did better on tests.
Without sleep, we’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, increased stress levels and irregular heartbeats. Lack of sleep can negatively affect our immune system, create inflammation and affect our mental health as well.
Sleepless snacksYou may remember that the last time you stayed up too late to pack, study or just procrastinate going to bed, popcorn, chips, cookies, alcohol or even an innocuous piece of fruit appeared out of nowhere. These substances can act as late-night companions for any of us. When we’re asleep, we’re not standing in front of the fridge pondering what to eat next.
The bottom line is also something that you may have experienced. When we’re tired, our bodies constantly seek alternate sources of energy. Many of us turn to caffeine, sugar or simply calories to get us through the day. Have you ever woken up voracious after a night of too little (or too light) sleep only to be ravenous throughout the day? This may be the workings of those aforementioned appetite hormones, leptin and ghrelin, that are working against us.
When one doesn’t get enough sleep, leptin levels are driven down, creating that ever-urgent sense of being hungry. Even after we eat, it’s hard to feel satisfied with a lower presence of leptin. Contrarily, ghrelin levels rise due to fatigue which creates a double-whammy effect. Not only are our appetites stimulated, but our ability to feel satisfied is decreased!
Studies show that subjects who were sleep deprived over the course of two days had an increased appetite — specifically for high-carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods (up 45 percent from their normal desires).
How much do I need?With so much on our plates these days, it’s a wonder we’re not getting the sleep we need! We hardly have time to eat right, exercise, get our work done, tend to our families and do the tasks that need doing, let alone sleep. This has led many a generation to cut back on sleep and to celebrate that (not-so-old) adage “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
Sleep necessity is specific to the individual. Normally people need between six to eight hours each day. Collectively, today we are sleeping about one to one and a half hours less than we did 100 years ago. Thomas Edison, Martha Stewart and Jay Leno have claimed to need five or less hours of sleep each night. Comparatively, genius Albert Einstein and our fellow Vermonter, Calvin Coolidge, said they needed ten or more hours each night. Politicians Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill took naps throughout the day. Experiment with your sleep need by waking up without an alarm clock or just figure out how much time you’ve logged when you feel the best during the day!
Natural sleep remediesHere are some natural sleep remedies to turn to before going to OTC remedies …or worse, prescription sleep aids.
Valerian RootStudies conducted over 40 years have shown that valerian root can help us fall asleep faster, improve the quality of sleep and help to drive us into a deeper sleep stage.
LavenderThis is a well-known sleepy scent. More studies are needed to determine its full side effects and benefits.
PassionflowerIn a small study, this extract was shown to increase sleep time, decreasing the time subjects spent tossing and turning.
HopsYou’re telling me to drink beer!?! Well … not exactly … but you may have noticed the calming effects beer has on you or someone you know. That’s because of the hops, the female flower used to make beer. As an extract, hops can be used as a mild sedative for anxiety or for lack of sleep. Take some before you hop into bed.
As part of their natural effects, magnesium and calcium are both sleep aids. They can be used to quell any leg cramps you may experience at night as well.
Melatonin = ZzzzzzzChances are, we’ve heard of it before. Melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep. Some experts recommend taking higher doses, but studies show that lower doses are just as, if not more, effective. Taking a lower dose also avoids the concern that extremely high doses could cause toxicity, as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility.
L-theanineThis is an amino acid found in mushrooms and green tea. It not only helps to maintain a tranquil alertness during the day but also helps to achieve a deeper sleep at night. Make sure you find a brand that is pure L-theanine.
GlycineThis can be taken in supplement form to promote sleepiness, but it’s found in many foods as well. It is thought to lower our body temperature, signifying that it’s time for bed. Sources include meat and meat products like bone broth, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, kale, cabbage and fruits such as banana and kiwi.
Don’t take an intense yoga class or extended mediation prior to bedtime, as that could get you ready to go for another few hours, but gentle yoga or light stretching focused on breathing is a good pre-bed activity. Close your eyes and for five to 10 minutes, pay attention to nothing but your breathing. You may doze off before you even realizzzzz…..
Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram:
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