Last week when I was doing my weekly check-in with my coach he asked me how in the world I was getting 3+ hours of deep sleep?
“Oura data (here) looks great, you will have to tell me how to get almost 4 hours of deep sleep?”
My response back to him was…
“I wish I could figure it out…I feel like I could make a shit ton of money telling people my secret .”
The good news is I think I did figure it out, the bad news is that I don’t think it’s going to make me a shit ton of money.
I had noticed that my deep sleep numbers had jumped up lately. I had always had pretty good deep sleep numbers on Oura, somewhere between 2-3 hours. However lately I had been noticing that I was getting a lot more nights where I was getting 3+ hours of deep sleep. I tend to not put too much weight into the sleep stage data on Oura since I care much more about how I feel than the specific sleep stage breakdown. However, his comment got me thinking about what the difference could have been…
At first I thought that it could just be the new ring I got. I recently purchased the Oura Ring 3 not too long ago so I figured maybe something changed in the measurements with the new ring. I could easily validate this by looking back at my deep sleep data and see if I noticed a big jump in deep sleep when I got the ring.
I headed over to the Oura dashboard and looked at my deep sleep data for the past few months. I got the ring on November 1st, however my deep sleep numbers look pretty much the same until January 1st.
This was pretty interesting, what happened around January 1st that could cause this jump in deep sleep numbers?
Suddenly it occurred to me that around the end of December I had started to increase my calories…bingo!
The point of this story is not to tell you that if you want to get more deep sleep you should eat more food. Even though I think that is the case here, it certainly is just my own experience and may not apply to you at all.
Instead the point is to illustrate the impact simple changes in diet can have on your sleep in both a positive and negative fashion.
I came to this realization a long time ago.
One of my main complaints 6 years ago as I began my health journey was how crappy my sleep was. I was waking up several times a night, and using the bathroom constantly. It was so frustrating. I tried everything to fix it, and nothing made it better. It wasn’t till I started eating more did I stop waking up and no longer had to pee. I am not sure of the exact mechanism of action here, my guess is it was cortisol related (a stress hormone) in that my cortisol was raising in the middle of the night due to under eating and waking me up causing me to realize I had something in my bladder and then going to the bathroom.
Regardless of the cause, eating more food made it better.
There is no doubt that your diet plays an important role in your sleep, and it does it in several ways. There are several aspects of diet that can affect your sleep, they can be broken down as follows:
- Metabolic Effects
It should not come as a surprise that food quality has an impact on your sleep. There are many different opinions on the best diet, but no matter what your thoughts are they are all based on one key thing….they emphasize whole foods and limit processed foods. A great example here is contrasting having a couple of alcoholic drinks before bed. For nearly everyone I have encountered, having alcohol will have a negative effect on their sleep. Replace those alcoholic drinks with a couple glasses of water and sleep will without a doubt improve.
If you have processed foods in your diet, especially ones that you know you don’t tolerate well, your sleep is likely going to be negatively affected . If your body is having a hard time dealing with a food you ate, it’s not going to be able to “relax” and allow you to get a solid night’s sleep. It’s trying to deal with the food you ate instead.
When it comes to food another consideration we need to keep in mind is the quantity of the food we eat. This can be measured from both a food volume perspective as well as a caloric value perspective. We will talk about food volume when it comes to timing next so here we will address the caloric aspect of quantity. For some people it appears the amount of calories you do or don’t eat can greatly impact their sleep. For myself, if I eat too little, especially over the course of a few days, I start to notice my sleep become very disrupted. I can fall asleep fine, but I wake up a lot throughout the night. For others it appears that they may sleep better when in a caloric deficit.
I also think that whether caloric intake has an impact on your sleep might have to do with your overall stress load as well. For example, if you have a low stress load and are also in a caloric deficit your sleep might be just fine, whereas if you stress level is already high and you throw a caloric deficit on top of that your sleep might go to hell.
Meal timing can also play a huge role in your sleep quality. The number one place where I see this play out is eating too close to bed. This is what I was referring to above when talking about food volume. If you eat a bunch of food, regardless of the quality of that food, right before bed you are most likely not going to sleep as well. The reason is that your body is not able to relax because it has to digest all the food in your stomach. For example, in this study done on 18-29 years olds, eating within 3 hours of bed time resulted in more night time awakenings and disrupted sleep . I know personally the later I eat, the worse I sleep as well.
Interestingly enough studies have shown that shifting meal timing later or even constant feeding over the course of 24 hours does not affect melatonin (hormone to make you sleepy) or cortisol (hormone to wake you up) levels, but did impact insulin and glucose responses .
The effect on insulin and glucose speaks to the final impact of diet on sleep, the metabolic effect. Another reason how diet can impact sleep is steep drops or rises in their glucose at night. Why? Your glucose level needs to be tightly controlled, too low or too high is no good, so if either extreme happens while you are sleeping your body is going to wake you up to do something about it. This is why having a pint of ice cream before bed can be a bad idea. It is probably a bad idea at any time of the day, but if you do it before bed your glucose can go sky high and then drop sharply, that is no good from a sleep quality perspective. Some people may have the opposite problem where they are not consuming enough food, particularly carbohydrates and their blood sugar can drop sharply at night waking them up . I see this sometimes in hard charging athletes who are just not eating enough food.
Often times we think of food only in the context of weight loss or gain, but its impact is far reaching and it is a major player in your sleep quality. As always the best thing you can do to make sure your food is not affecting your sleep is to start eating a whole foods diet. Take it one step further, and make sure you are eating those whole foods a few hours before you go to bed. Finally do some exercise to help with any kind of metabolic impact from the foods you do eat. You don’t need to overcomplicate things too much. If you stick to an ancestral way of living your diet is likely to have little impact on your sleep, and it will help optimize your lifestyle and performance.
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