How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep?

How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep?

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Nutrition is one of the three pillars along with rest and exercise that we can try to influence our well-being. There are many nutrition tips and diets to choose from, and no one can avoid nutrition information. Research is constantly providing information on the links between diet and diseases, and especially the health risks of being overweight.

Many people may feel overwhelmed by excessive information on healthy foods and supplements.

Almost all ready meals contain varying amounts of “additives” to help balance the composition and shelf life of the product.

These ingredients are not what anyone would add to their home cooked meals, so they are extra and non-food ingredients. Although not directly toxic, at least some of them have a daily upper limit. For this reason, it would make sense to prepare your own meals from ingredients of known origin.

Many diets that are recommended, for example, in support use of autoimmune diseases or in support of ADHD, give priority to organic foods and raw materials. However, comparative research results between organic and non-organic seem to be difficult to interpret in one way or another.

Sleep and gut health

Nutrition and the organs that work on it, the digestive tract, play a key role in human well-being and thus in the state of alertness. The digestive tract begins at the mouth and ends at the anus, and also includes the gallbladder, liver and pancreas (as well as the immune system and nervous system). This system is also responsible for 80% of the human immune system. The digestive tract is called the “second brain”, which refers to its active function as a neurotransmitter producing organ and its active involvement in neural activity. Therefore, what we eat and what we do not eat is very important for staying healthy and functional.

The small intestine (small bowel) plays a key role in the digestive system, where food is mainly absorbed. The live bacteria in the gut are attached to the outer wall of the small intestine, which are involved in the digestion of food, the synthesis of trace elements and vitamins, and the maintenance of human resistance.

The gut microbial strain (gut microbiome) originates in childbirth as the baby passes through the mother’s birth canal. In addition, the microbial strain is enhanced by breast feeding. Because intestinal cells regenerate rapidly, it is important that we eat daily a diet that maintains the right strain of bacteria. The balance of the microbial strain is adversely affected by, for example, an overly sugary diet, dietary toxins, and antibiotics that increase the growth of yeast in the gut. When a part of the wall of the gut is inhibited because of these reasons, there will be malabsorption, such as anemia. If the imbalance continues, the cellular space in the wall becomes loose and release particles that do not belong to the bloodstream. This results in inflammatory conditions with neurological symptoms.

Nutrition and alertness

The diet recommended for alertness has little or no fast-absorbing carbohydrates. Fast carbohydrates have a high glycemic index, which means that when they are absorbed into the bloodstream, they raise blood glucose levels quickly, which in turn causes an immediate increase in insulin production. A person feels refreshed when their blood sugar levels rise, and very quickly after that, when they bind glucose and store it in adipose tissue. Blood sugar will then drop quickly. This creates a twist that requires you to raise your blood sugar again to correct the alertness. This upward and downward movement of the alert state also affects the quality of the sleep.

How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep

The Harvard Healthy eating pyramid

Professor Walter Willett of Harvard University has researched healthy nutrition and built a pyramid of healthy eating bearing his own name. The pyramid has seven layers, and it is understandable that the products of the lower layers are used more in quantity than the upper layers.

On the ground floor of the pyramid are daily exercise and weight management. The actual first layer contains whole grains and cold pressed vegetable oils such as olive oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, nut oil and the like. These are used several times a day and daily. According to the latest research, olive oil is probably the healthiest.

On the next level are vegetables and fruits. They are also recommended to be used more than once a day. The third floor contains nuts, seeds and beans, which are still a daily diet. They are followed up by chicken, fish and eggs, which are used from zero to twice a day.

The second highest floor is dairy products, which are used only once or twice a day. On the top floor are red meat, butter, refined products such as sugar and white wheat flour, as well as potatoes and all products made from them. Upper floor products should be used with moderation, as should alcohol. They are not recommended for daily use.

Nordic dietary recommendation

Meal times and habits are largely culture-related and individual. It is good to eat at regular intervals, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner, and one or two snacks as needed. A regular meal rhythm keeps blood glucose levels steady, suppresses hunger, supports weight control and protects teeth from decay.

It is recommended to eat:

  • At least 500 grams of root vegetables, vegetables, berries, fruits and mushrooms should be consumed daily, ie about five to six servings. One serving means one medium-sized fruit, one decilitre of berries, or 1.5 decilitres of lettuce or grate. About half of this amount should be berries and fruits and the rest should be root and vegetables. Some of these should be enjoyed uncooked and used as food ingredients.
  • Vegetables, berries and fruits are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and other useful compounds. Pulses, or beans, lentils, and peas, on the other hand, are quite high in protein and serve as a good source of protein for both omnivorous and vegetarians. Vegetable protein is also an environmentally friendly choice.
  • You should eat fish two or three times a week. Fish is a great source of protein, polyunsaturated fats and vitamin D.
  • Nuts and seeds are good sources of unsaturated fat. Nuts, almonds and seeds (such as sunflower, sesame, pine and pumpkin seeds), whether or not salted, unsweetened or otherwise shelled, can be consumed in varieties of about 30 grams, ie two tablespoons a day, which is 200-250 grams per week.
  • Whole grain products contain less energy. Whole grain products are high in fiber and have a higher nutrient density. The recommended daily amount of grain products is about six doses for women and about nine doses for men. Serving means one decilitre of cooked whole wheat pasta, barley or rice or other whole grain garnish or one slice of bread. For example, a plate of oatmeal corresponds to two servings.
  • Meat products and red meat should not be used more than 500 grams per week. The amount refers to cooked meat and corresponds to approximately 700 to 750 grams in raw weight. One serving of fish or meat weighs approximately 100-150 grams when cooked. A suitable use rate for eggs is two or three per week. Poultrymeat is low in fat and has a higher fat quality than beef and lamb. The meat is particularly rich in highly absorbable iron. Red meat (beef, sheepmeat and pork) should be chosen as low in fat and meat products as low in salt as possible.
  • The need for fluids is unique to everyone. Physical activity, ambient temperature and age, for example, influence the need. The recommended amount of all fluids per day is 1 to 1.5 liters in addition to the liquid in the food. Water, mineral water or milk containing up to 1% fat are recommended for drinking. Sugary drinks should not be used on a regular basis as the use of sugary drinks is associated with a risk of type 2 diabetes and overweight. In addition, the high consumption of sugary drinks reduces dental health.

The main goal of this dietary recommendation is to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.

How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep

Get rid of wheat (William Davis wheat belly)

William Davis fights against wheat in his book Wheat Belly. In the 1960s, wheat was used to fight the looming famine and was transformed into a richer and more easily cultivated variety. This new form of Triticum aestivum has moved far from the pristine single-grain wheat. Due to genetic modification, this dwarf wheat contains a greater number of genes that produce celiac-related gluten proteins than the varieties used for breeding.

Williams has thoroughly researched the health effects of wheat and states that it is a major contributor to the worrying rise in overweight in Americans. The Americans shifted away from fatty foods to avoid cardiovascular disease and replaced fats with light products and whole grains. However, this grain is mainly wheat.

Sugar in wheat

Wheat is a complex starch or carbohydrate, of which 75% is branched glucose or amylopectin and 25% is straight-chain glucose or amylose.

These chains are digested by the digestive enzymes of the body so that amylopectin is cleaved to individual glucose molecules, while amylose passes partially intact into the intestine. These glucose molecules rapidly raise blood glucose levels.

Wheat has a higher glycemic index than sugar, as does whole wheat. When glucose is absorbed into the blood, the pancreas begins to secrete insulin. Its function is to store excess glucose into adipose tissue. When the task is done, the blood sugar level drops rapidly, which follows by fatigue and, of course, a feeling of hunger.

This kind of daytime blood glucose fluctuation and alertness variation also disturbs nighttime sleep. Eventually, through obesity, they lead to insulin resistance, whereby insulin no longer functions in the same way as it used to, and then to diabetes. It is still not known why this builds up as a dangerous waistline obesity and an increase in visceral fat around the internals, whereas excessive eating of fatty food is mainly seen in the thighs and buttocks.

Fat in wheat

The liver compresses proteins and triglycerides, or fats, into VLDL molecules, very low density lipids. These molecules are the parent forms of the LDL and HDL molecules. There are two types of LDL molecules, low density fat cells: large and small. Small molecules are the ones that cause cardiovascular disease by accumulating inside the blood vessels by inflaming the tissue. All LDLs are initially large until they encounter VLDL molecules in the blood, to which they give cholesterol, and from which they take triglycerides. With this exchange, they become small LDL molecules.

Dietary fats increase the levels of VLDL and small LDL molecules in the blood only momentarily. Although carbohydrates are low in triglycerides, they activate insulin production in the body, which in turn releases large amounts of VLDL molecules from the liver. The amount of triglycerides released in this way will remain high in the blood for a long time if carbohydrates are taken daily. Of course, triglyceride levels are also influenced by individual factors. However, high carbohydrate foods can still cause excess fat to filter back into the liver, causing fatty liver and even cirrhosis of the liver.

Addicted to wheat?

In the human digestive process, gluten produces morphine-like compounds, exorphins, which attach to opiate receptors in the brain. This results in a slight feeling of euphoria. This euphoria and the feeling of hunger that will soon follow from the rapid rise in blood glucose lead to excessive calorie intake. According to one study, subjects who stopped eating wheat for the duration of the study also reduced calorie intake by 30 percent.

Wheat and gluten

Wheat contains 20% protein, most of which is gluten protein. Gluten is also present in barley and rye. When the human body makes antibodies to gluten, the person suffers from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease.

Celiac disease has quadrupled in the last fifty years, and it is not just a matter of improved diagnosis. According to Davis, celiac disease is a disease whose symptoms vary so much that he would prefer to call it immunologic gluten intolerance, one form of which is traditional celiac disease with intestinal and absorption symptoms. Without a proper diet, illness will eventually lead to death.

Celiac disease is generated by a mechanism in which gluten causes intestinal wall “drain”, and finally through the inflammatory process, an autoimmune disease, a person who has the propensity. Gluten itself increases the production of a protein called zonulin in all humans, which in turn contributes to the loosening of cellular connections. Even without celiac disease, such intestinal dysfunction can cause a variety of inflammatory conditions and other symptoms.

Caffeine and sleep

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, so its effect is refreshing. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks and dark chocolate. One hundred grams of dark chocolate corresponds to one or two cups of coffee, of course, depending on the strength of the coffee and the size of the cup. Caffeine acts as an antidote to adenosine, which means that it decreases the delivery of adenosine in the brain.  Adenosine, in turn, is a nucleoside that is secreted by the body and plays an important role in regulating sleep-wake rhythm.

The effect of caffeine starts about 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion and lasts for 4 to 20 hours, depending on the metabolism. The harmful effect of caffeine on sleep results in a reduction in sleep efficiency and a reduction in sleep duration. Efficiency suffers because part of a deep sleep is replaced by snooze.

Iron and sleep

Iron is an essential mineral for the functioning of the central nervous system. Adequate levels of tissue iron guarantee the function of the dopamine and serotonin receptors. In addition, iron is needed for the function of GABA, the gamma amino acid. GABA is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the transition from wakefulness to sleep. One study by Kuhn and Brodan showed that even a short period of imperfect sleep, only five nights, reduced the amount of iron in the tissues.

The highest levels of iron in the diet are in the internals and blood, but it is also found in meat, fish, broccoli, parsley, blueberries, black currants and dried apricots and raisins. For a person eating a normal omnivorous diet, the level of tissue iron should be within the reference range if the iron ingested is well absorbed. In food, the absorption of iron is impaired by phytate in grains, milk and coffee. The absorption of iron is enhanced by the simultaneous intake of vitamin C. The iron content of vegetables may be poorly absorbed, but the meat ingested at the same meal increases its absorption.

Vitamin D and sleep

The most important vitamin D is vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. It is formed in the skin by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Natural foods contain vitamin D only in fish. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to, for example, muscle loss, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vitamin D deficiency also appears to increase the risk of various central nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis. A possible link has also been found between narcolepsy and low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, is present in some plant products, such as chanterelles and horseradish, but is also scarce.

The storage form of vitamin D is calcidol, which the liver produces from vitamin D3. The recommended intake of vitamin D is influenced by many things: sunlight, skin color, diet and body mass index. One study found that a person consumes about 40 micrograms of vitamin D per day. The study found that an additional daily dose of 15-20 micrograms kept the blood levels of calcidol at a minimum. In autoimmune diseases and some chronic conditions, an additional daily dose of up to 50 micrograms is recommended.


Other trace elements and sleep

For example, copper is needed at various stages of iron absorption. It is also needed for the construction and operation of different parts of the red blood cells. People cannot get too much copper from their diet, but lack of it can cause a variety of red blood cell production, neutrophil deficiencies, and growth disorder. Copper comes from foods that include liver, internals, whole grains, potatoes, nuts, legumes and crustaceans.

Zinc, in turn, is required for central nervous system and other metabolic events, and is also involved in numerous enzymes. Almost all nutrients contain zinc: meat, fish, shellfish, whole grains, dairy products, seeds and nuts, and green vegetables, making it less likely to suffer from deficiency.

Fatty acids and sleep

The importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans has long been known, as well as their effect on nerve function in particular. DHA, or docohexaenoic acid, is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that falls into omega-3 fatty acids, it is obtained in particular from fatty fish such as salmon and herring. Its pair of EPAs, eicosapentaenoic acid, is a type of acid found in fish skeletal muscle. The myelin sheath covering the human nerve cell is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, mainly DHA.

At the junction of nerve cells, or synapses, these fatty acids fine-tune the reactions of the neurotransmitters. One such neurotransmitter is serotonin, which regulates the human mood, and its lack in synapses causes depression. Antidepressants, in turn, assure the function of serotonin in nerve cells. Studies have shown that EPA works in the same direction as it enhances the effect of the serotonin system. EPA and DHA levels in blood plasma correlate with serotonin levels, and this again demonstrates the benefit of using these fatty acids in the treatment or prevention of depression.

The electrical activity of the brain is based on the transmission of electrical currents in the nerve membranes, for which fatty acids are an important building material and especially DHA because EPA is not stored in the brain. Decreased DHA levels in the brain are associated, among other things, with impaired memory function. For example, patients with Alzheimer’s disease have significantly lower DHA levels in the brain than healthy people of the same age.

Fasting and sleep

There are few studies on the effect of fasting on sleep, and there have been conflicting results. Fasting has been found to both lengthen and shorten the night’s sleep, depending on the subject. Similarly, when examining the effect of fasting on sleep architecture, the results were somewhat dispersed. Fasting seemed to increase the amount of deep sleep and decrease the amount of REM sleep, snooze and light sleep.

The sleep of those fasting during Ramadan has been studied to some extent, although fasting during Ramadan is not continuous but lasts from sunrise to sunset. According to the study results, during the Ramadan, the subjects’ sleep delay increased. Also during the Ramadan, the structure of sleep changed so that the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep decreased. The consistent finding in the other study, however, was that the subjects’ excessive daytime sleepiness, as measured by the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), increased during Ramadan.

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