Did you know that Canada and the US are tied for the third most sleep-deprived countries in the world?  These counties also struggle with weight issues, along with a number of chronic disease. Sleep status, weight and chronic disease are most defiantly related.

Think about it: If you’re feeling sleepy at work, you may be tempted to reach for a cup of coffee (or several cups) and a sugary-laden snack for a quick shot of energy. Later you may skip the gym and pick up takeout on your way home to your family — no time to cook. When you finally find yourself back in your bed, you are too wound up to sleep – no wonder, take a look at the food choices that were made throughout the day!

Exactly how lack of sleep affects our ability to lose weight has a lot to do with our nightly hormones.

The two hormones that are key in this process are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. In addition, are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived.

So what can you do about sleep deprivation?

Let’s take a closer look at what we’re eating before bed, as this can help stop that vicious cycle and balance out our hormone feedback system. We don’t just want to eat anything before we get to sleep. In general we want to avoid big meals, foods that are too high in fat, high in caffeine or too high in sugar right before bed. Some no-no before-bed foods include chocolate, coffee, energy drinks, ice cream, chip, etc.

I will cover foods with properties that aid in getting into that restful slumber, and that act as alternatives to some common bedtime snacks that are not conducive to promoting a restful sleep.  
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  1. Walnuts

    Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin, the “body clock” hormone that sets your sleep-wake cycles. Additionally, University of Texas researchers found that walnuts contain their own source of melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster.

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  2. Pumpkin Seeds

    Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium and potassium. Magnesium and potassium both helps put your body into a sleepy state by helping with muscle relaxation. Other magnesium-rich foods include spinach, nuts and seeds.

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  3.  Hummus/Chickpeas

    Chickpeas are rich in magnesium and also contain tryptophan. Adding some crackers with good-quality carbohydrates (my favourite crackers are Mary’s Gone Crackers), will play a role in increasing the body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin regulates sleep and calms you down.

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  4. Herbal Teas

    Chamomile is my top herbal tea pick. Chamomile is a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer. Some studies do show that chamomile could have anti-anxiety effects, but these are not yet conclusive. Some theories about chamomile propose that it’s apidenin, a flavonoid compound, which contributes to its relaxing effects. A warm beverage is also very calming to have before bed.

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  5. Milk (soy or cows)

    Dairy product contain tryptophan, an amino acid used to manufacture the neurotransmitter melatonin, which helps induce sleep. In addition, the calcium found in cheese, yogurt and milk, helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture melatonin. Calcium also helps regulate muscle movements. Don’t drink cows milk? No problem. Soy milk is a great alternative.

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Written by Nicole Osinga, RD, MAN, BASc

I'm a Registered Dietitian who works with clients in the Durham Region! I use evidence-based recommendations to help you achieve your nutrition goals. I have many hearty and delicious recipes to share! My office is in Courtice, ON. I regularly work with clients from Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Newcastle, Bowmanville and Courtice.

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