Eating Habits for Better Sleep

PHOTO: The food you eat can affect your sleep.
Nicolas Hansen/Getty Images

If you can't remember the last time you and your mattress spent quality time together, you're not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of the American workforce is sleep-deprived, getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night.

Our cultural lack of sufficient sleep does more than just keep Starbucks in business; it may be contributing to our ever-growing waistline. According to a study out of Harvard Medical School, sleep deprivation increases your risk for obesity.

For "Eat It to Beat It!," I spoke with Lauren Hale, an associate professor of preventative medicine in the Public Health Program at Stony Brook University and board member of the National Sleep Foundation, about why sleep and obesity are so closely linked, and what we can do to create healthier sleep habits.

Eating Habits for Better Sleep

Hormonal Hijinks

According to Hale, a lack of sleep takes a toll on our hunger hormones. Ghrelin, the hormone responsible for appetite stimulation in the body, is increased in times of insufficient sleep, while leptin, the hormone responsible for satiety, decreases. Your insatiable appetite may be a sign that it's time to schedule shut-eye.

Fight hormones with hormones. Melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep cycle, is produced when the sun goes down. Since our days are no longer dictated solely by the status of the sun, Hale suggests dimming the lights in your home in the evening, and turning off lights in rooms you aren't using to help stimulate the pineal gland (which produces melatonin), and prepare your body for bed.

Eating Habits for Better Sleep

Snack Time

If you're awake, you're more likely to snack, which is yet another reason to call it a night. Hale suggests taking a two-hour eating hiatus before bed. Fat and protein rich foods take more digestive energy, which can keep your body from relaxing into slumber. Make the last meal of your day a small, carbohydrate-based meal, and give yourself ample time to digest before hitting the hay.

Eating Habits for Better Sleep

The Power of Choice

Not only are you hungrier when you're tired, you're less likely to make positive food choices. A recent study found that sleep deprived adolescents were more likely to choose high calorie/low nutrient foods than healthier alternatives.

If you've noticed the insomnia pounds piling on, skip the drive-thru and hit the stationary store. Keeping a journal to track eating and exercise habits has been shown to promote weight loss and healthy-weight maintenance.

Eating Habits for Better Sleep

Careful With Caffeine

Your morning latte may be the only thing differentiating you from an extra on "The Walking Dead," but make sure you keep your caffeine fix limited to the morning hours. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to five hours. If you're craving a hot beverage before bed, opt for a naturally caffeine-free cup of herbal tea.

Dave Zinczenko, ABC News nutrition and wellness editor, is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, "Eat It to Beat It!" is full of food swaps, meal plans and the latest food controversies.

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