A woman appears asleep.
Eating the right stuff and avoiding the wrong stuff will help ensure a peaceful night’s rest. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Americans are known for trying to squeeze as much as possible into a single day.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” as the saying goes. But what if there is more to it?

Chronic lack of sleep—defined as less than the recommended seven to nine hours per night—has been associated with increased hunger and obesity, heart disease, diabetes and all-cause mortality. Not to mention the impact on your energy, focus, productivity and immune health.

This is all related to a disruption in the circadian rhythm, your biological clock, which can lead to other hormone and metabolic changes.

Our sleep and wake cycle can also be altered by sleeping during the day, working nightshift, exercising or eating before bed, the temperature and, of course, sleep disorders.

How does this happen? Here are a few ways:

  • Poor sleep habits can alter your hunger and fullness hormones. It causes an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the fullness hormone. And ultimately, people with poor sleep habits will consume more calories.
  • Low-quality sleep can also make your body’s insulin less effective. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugars, which means any irregularities could lead to diabetes.
  • Lack of sleep may also raise stress hormones such as cortisol, which leads to inflammation. Additionally, altered sleep and wake cycles can increase blood pressure. All of this can lead to heart disease.

So it goes without saying that sleep is an important part of your day—and it must be prioritized in your schedule.

How can we maximize our sleep with nutrition to get the best rest?

Here are a few tips to help you get a better night’s sleep:

  • Avoid caffeine before bed. It can take six to eight hours for the effects to wear off. (It’s worth noting, too, that smoking is another stimulant to avoid—and not just before bed, but altogether.)
  • Be cautious with alcohol. Although it is a sedative, it can prevent you from going into deep sleep and cause you to wake in the middle of the night.
  • Avoid large meals before bed. This can cause indigestion, and excess fluid can wake you at night to urinate.
  • Avoid exercise before bed. Daytime exercise has been shown to help improve sleep, but nighttime exercise can delay release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.
  • Avoid high-sugar foods before bed. They can cause a rise in blood sugars and energy.