Today, most people treat sleep as a luxury, and even in some cases as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Yet, when deprived of it, we’re pretty much inoperable. It’s a paradox people have been grappling with for years. In the past, sleep was never taken for granted; it was even poeticized. As John Milton famously asked, “What hath night to do with sleep?” Somewhere down the line, after the inception of ‘hustle culture’, sleep became associated with laziness. The last decade’s fixation on the ‘hustle’ has culminated in a society that prioritizes production over wellness, and even basic health.
Most are well aware of the implications lack of sleep can yield: memory deficits, physical aging, and even decreased sex drive. Now there’s new evidence to show the intimate connection between sleep and diet.
Combating the hunger monster
It’s a cycle we all know too well. After an all-night bender or last-minute crunch assignment that allows for just a couple hours of sleep, we find ourselves in a dazed stupor the next day, reaching ceremoniously for the family-sized chip bag. According to new research, there’s a scientific reason why we crave unhealthy food choices.
In a study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, nutrition scientist Maryam Hamidi, Ph.D., along with other Stanford researchers, examined survey results on sleep and nutrition from 245 Stanford physicians and found that a nutritious diet is linked to reduced side effects of sleep deprivation.
A lot of it has to do with physiology. In other words, it’s really not our fault. Research shows that the brain imbalance caused by a sleep deficit can trigger a physical urgency to increase depleted energy levels foods high in added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat. “The effects of diet on sleep quality have been attributed to the role of dietary factors in the regulation of peripheral circadian clocks and the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in sleep regulation.”
The good news is that if junk food exacerbates fatigue, healthy foods work inversely, mitigating the effects of a bad night’s rest. This means that our level of fatigue is, to some degree, in our control.
According to Hamidi, if sleep isn’t an immediate option, the only way to combat this is through healthy food choices such as fruits, vegetables, unsalted raw or dry-roasted nuts, salads, smoothies, and even healthy protein bars. If sustained over time, this kind of nutrient-rich diet is imperative to both cognitive function and sleep quality.
So while most would advise against an all-night bender, workaholics and insomniacs alike may find some reassurance in the simple power of a nutritious snack to save the day.