Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, weight gain, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Good sleep habits and heart health go hand in hand. While the body rests during sleep, the brain remains active to produce hormones that promote growth and repair cells and tissue, fight infections and help the body control hunger.
While sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults need seven to eight hours each night. School-aged children and teens function best with at least nine hours of sleep each night; preschoolers, 10 to 12 hours.
Food’s impact on sleep
Researchers found that certain nutrients may play a role in sleep duration, and that people who eat a wide variety of foods had the healthiest sleep patterns. Short sleepers (five to six hours a night) consumed the most calories. As for eating a well-rounded diet, normal sleepers consumed the most varied diet, and short sleepers consumed the least varied diet. Short sleep was associated with lower intake of a chemical called lycopene, found in red- and orange-colored foods, such a tomatoes, vitamin C and selenium (a mineral found in nuts, meat and shellfish).
Too much sleep?
People who sleep too long can experience negative health consequences, as well. Long sleep was associated with lower intake of a substance found in chocolate and tea called theobromine, and choline, which is found in eggs and fatty meats, and a higher intake of alcohol.
The ideal mix
Pinpointing the ideal mix of nutrients and calories to promote healthy sleep has the potential to make a major dent in obesity and other risk factors for heart disease.
While an occasional sleepless night may not be worrisome, insomnia lasting for long periods of time can lead to real medical problems. Next time you find yourself unable to sleep, try these time-tested cures:
- Limit caffeine to 300 mg per day, the amount in about two cups of coffee, and avoid having caffeine for six hours before bedtime. Caffeine is found not only in coffee and tea, but also in soft drinks and energy drinks as well as certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
- Avoid large meals at night, focusing instead on colorful, plant-based foods for the greatest amount of phytonutrients.
- Do regular exercise in the morning or afternoon, instead of at night.
- Avoid more than 1-2 servings of alcohol at night. Even though alcohol is a sedative, it can disrupt sleep.
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Make the bedroom as comfortable as possible.
- Unwind with a good book or soothing music.
- Practice mediation or a relaxation technique before bed. It’s a great way to unwind, calm the mind and prepare for a sound sleep.
Susan Ryskamp, MS, RDN, is a senior dietitian and cardiovascular nutritionist with the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. She is also a trained health coach in behavior change, including stress management and quitting smoking. She provides nutritional counseling to help people reduce disease risk and improve health. She is responsible for individual and group outpatient medical nutrition therapy as part of the dynamic cardiovascular team committed to making a difference.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.