DOES YOUR DIET SUCK?
In a lot of ways you probably already associate your eating habits with sleep - even if it’s only the fact that you always need a nap after gorging during your Thanksgiving feast - but diet is one of the key factors that can affect the quality of our sleep that we rarely give much thought to.
Back in the dark times of my modeling days and consulting, it was easy to associate my stunted sleep patterns with jet lag and crazy long “make-it-happen” hustle hours, but when sleepless nights kept plaguing me long after I gave up my career of fashion, and building businesses I knew there was something else going on.
Unfortunately, while I had an inkling that something wasn’t right in my world, it took me several years before I was able to see the connection between what I was putting into my body and what I was really getting out of it. I thought I was doing everything right, but what I couldn’t see was that none of it was right for me.
On the surface we all understand certain reactions between our body and what we ingest. Coffee will wake us up and bring us to high alert, while sweet treats will ramp us up for a short passing moment. Fast food will be satisfying while we’re eating it (thanks to release of those confusing feel-good hormones like dopamine that light up the reward center of our brain, but also get released when we do awful things like smoke and take drugs), but will then make us feel awful after the final bite; while on the other hand eating some fresh fruit might not give you that same buzz in the pleasure centre of your brain that helps us to form lasting habits.
What we don’t think about is the lasting effect of our food. We get so caught up in the immediate feelings in our body - whether it’s the release of rewarding chemicals in our brain or a rumbling in our stomach - we forget about our meals by the time we’re actually digesting them.
Whether you’re going to bed wired from drinking caffeine in the evening or have digestion issues that are making you toss and turn at night, it’s time to start acknowledging that what we put into our body is greatly affecting our health as well as our sleeping habits.
LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO LEAKY GUT
While the idea of food as fuel is nothing new, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve been hearing about the connection between food and our gut health - and more importantly, the connection between our gut and our overall health.
The human gut is a complex and diverse world in itself, filled with millions upon millions of microscopic organisms known as microbes. While it might sound a little gross when you first think about the trillions of microorganisms living on and inside you right now in the form of bacteria, fungi or viruses, the fact is that we rely on these organisms to help maintain proper function of our bodies.
A leaky gut is another name for the condition “Hyperpermeable Intestines”, where the intestinal lining breaks down, allowing food, parasites and bacteria to make its way directly into the bloodstream. Your intestines basically function as a molecule screening zone and only allow the molecules to pass into your bloodstream after they’ve been “screened” for toxins, so when your gut is leaking you’re missing out on this crucial screening process.
One of the main causes of Leaky Gut is inflammation brought on by poor diet. By consuming a diet with large amounts of refined sugars, processed foods and gluten, which your body was not designed to process in such high quantities, you start to build up unsafe levels of toxins which effectively erode the intestinal wall.
Treat your brain with respect.
Not only are your intestines your body’s first line of defense against sickness and infection, but the gut microbiome is also connected to your metabolism, your brain and your sleep cycle. This means that the shifting gut microbiome can affect your circadian rhythms, your sleep cycle and the hormones your brain releases to regulate sleep and wakefulness. As a result, those who struggle with regulating their sleep can often look to a leaky gut to find the cause.
The intestinal microbiome produces and releases some of the same neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood and control your sleep, such as dopamine and serotonin. It also produces its own form of melatonin, which we commonly think of as the “sleepy hormone”, but melatonin deficiencies can also contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
While it is natural to find your gut in a permanent state of flux, after all it is filled with living organisms that must die off and be replenished, when our gut health swings too far in one direction that’s when we get the dangerous buildup of toxins that leads to inflammation. Your genes are only responsible for about 10% of diseases, the other 90% comes from environmental factors - including the state of your gut health.
In much the same way as our body has circadian rhythms to regulate our sleep, our gut microbiome experiences its own rhythms, which are affected by the foods we eat as well as our eating schedule. Typically, a traditional “Western” diet is high in saturated fats and carbohydrates, which studies have shown has an adverse effect on your gut microbiome and can also send signals that disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Eating your way to a better night’s sleep
Since your gut microbiome is directly affected by the foods you eat, which in turn go on to affect your body’s functions and brain health, it goes without saying that it is crucial that we take care with what we’re putting into our body, as well as when we’re eating - eating a big meal full of great nutrients is still going to have an adverse effect on us if we’re eating it 5 minutes before falling into bed at 11pm.
On a basic level, we need the nutrients derived from the foods we eat to power our body and rebuild our cells, but we also need to eat a diverse range of foods because the vast colonies of microorganisms living within us all require different fuel for them to function properly. This is just one of the many reasons why we should not be subsisting on junk food - it serves no nutritional value to the body and actually breaks down the parts we need to function properly.
If you’re wanting to start taking control of your gut health to help regulate your sleep patterns, lose weight and balance your moods then there are lots of diet tweaks you can make to your current eating plan to improve the state of your gut health.
An elimination diet will help you to get to the bottom of which food groups are wreaking havoc on your gut. The foods most likely to be causing you problems are sugars, starches and grains, so these are a great place to start, but instead of simply eliminating half the food groups you’re eating you’re going to need to start incorporating some of the foods that are known to help the state of your gut health as well.
Gut flora loves to feed on prebiotic foods which are mostly made up of fibre, so it is important to ensure you’re getting enough high quality dietary fibre in your diet through vegetables like asparagus and mushrooms, or through whole grains and oats. You also need to ensure you’re ingesting lots of probiotics, which are foods that have been fermented to naturally grow beneficial bacteria that your gut needs to thrive, examples of this include fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, or fermented beverages like kombucha.
We’ve finally moved past the idea that all fats were created equal - and are equally bad for you. In fact, to ensure proper function of your body and optimal gut health, it is important to ingest a diet full of high quality fats like those found in fish oil and avocado.
While changing your diet will definitely have an impact on both your gut health and sleeping habits, it is crucial that you also take care to create a routine around your eating habits, because your intestinal microbiota exhibits daily oscillations that are influenced by feeding rhythms, leading to time-specific compositional and functional profiles over the course of a day. Try to eat your breakfast at the same time every day, limit your coffee intake (and please don’t drink it after 2pm if you’re wanting uninterrupted sleep!) and eat your dinner before 7pm to allow plenty of time for your body to digest it before it begins the busy work of healing itself while you sleep.
Take time to balance your meals.
Your body will thank you later!
In a perfect world we’d all be eating a wonderfully balanced diet that would effortlessly provide us with everything we need for healthy body function with none of the nasties, but sometimes even if we’re trying to eat all the right things our bodies might struggle to absorb them correctly. This could be due to a similar internal erosion that creates Leaky Gut or a naturally occurring deficiency in your body, so it may be necessary to take supplements to help support your body and give yourself the best shot at a great night’s sleep.
Probiotic supplements will help to even out the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut (both of which you need to perform at your highest level), magnesium and zinc will help to reverse some of the damage to your gut caused by inflammation, and essential fish oils omega-3 will help to repair the intestinal walls if you’re suffering from leaky gut.
Ultimately, our eating habits and our sleep cycle are irrevocably entwined. One cannot function properly without the other, so it is vital that we do everything we can to avoid damaging toxins and help our bodies to repair themselves.
If you want to start sleeping more soundly, and be able to deal with the 50000 things you have to do everyday without blinking an eye ( no stress ) sign up for my group coaching program where I help women UPGRADE their lives, permanently!
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