How a good diet can improve the quality of sleep?

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Find the nutrition chronicle of Stéphane Besançon, nutritionist and director of the NGO Santé Diabète in Bamako, Mali. This week, he explains the link between diet and sleep.

What is the ideal sleep time and what are the consequences of lack of sleep?

Sleep duration recommendations vary by age. It takes at least 11 hours of sleep under 5 years old, at least 10 hours from 5 to 10 years old, at least 9 hours from 10 to 18 years old and finally at least 7h30 of sleep above 18 years old.

It is difficult to identify all the consequences of lack of sleep on our body, because scientific studies highlight new harmful effects very regularly. However, we can remember that in children and adolescents the consequences of a lack of sleep are dramatic since it directly affects their neurological development, but also their physical development such as their size or their muscle mass. It will also strongly affect their learning abilities. In adults, lack of sleep will be a risk factor for various diseases: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even certain forms of depression. Finally, we must not forget that in children, adolescents and adults, lack of sleep is a major risk factor for overweight and obesity.

Only sleep time is important?

Sleep time is very important, but it is not enough. The quality of sleep is also very important to complete all the cycles necessary for a restful night which consists of 4 to 6 cycles of 90 minutes. Sleep starts with the slow deep cycle which will represent 15 to 20% of the night. This is the phase when the activity of our brain is reduced to its minimum. Then, there will be different cycles of light slow sleep which will represent 55 to 60% of the night. This is the phase where sleep becomes lighter. Finally, there is the paradoxical sleep cycle which will represent 20 to 25% of the night. This is the phase where the brain is very active and where we dream. Various factors will influence the quality of sleep. There is of course the respect of his rhythm, to be sure to set his rhythm well on the needs of his body. There is also the impact of screens, noise, light, mattresses and of course our lifestyle with the impact of our diet and the practice of physical activity.

Is there a connection between our diet and our sleep?

There are two very important links between our diet and our sleep. First, there is the impact of what we eat on the quality of our sleep. Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between the quality of our diet, the quality of our intestinal microbiota and our sleep. Other studies have also shown a link between eating too much fat and poor quality sleep. For example, an international study carried out in 64 countries among 175,000 teenagers showed that teenagers who consumed 2 to 3 times more soda or “junk food” – junk food – had 50% more sleep disorders.

Then there is the impact of lack of sleep on our diet. Indeed, when we lack sleep our body will secrete a hormone, leptin, in smaller quantities. This hormone controls the feeling of no longer being hungry. Conversely, lack of sleep activates the production of another hormone, ghrelin, which promotes the feeling of hunger. The consequence is that we will eat more than our needs. Finally, for our sleep, but also for our overall health, in addition to improving our diet, it is important to practice regular physical activity which has a very positive impact on the quality of our sleep.

What are your recommendations for adopting a diet that will allow you to sleep better?

The time and content of the evening meal are very important for good sleep. It is important not to eat just before going to bed and to favor a last meal 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep. Then, do not eat a meal that is too heavy or a meal that contains too much fat and too much animal protein. Too fatty foods will be more difficult to digest, but also promote the production of a neurotransmitter, orexin, which stimulates hunger and wakefulness. Animal proteins such as meat, fish or eggs will cause an increase in body temperature. You must also be careful not to eat too little in the evening, because the feeling of hunger can also disturb sleep. Finally, we must also choose what we drink in the evening. Avoid exciting drinks containing caffeine such as certain sodas, energy drinks, coffee or tea. It is also necessary to avoid alcohol which leads to a very strong instability of sleep. On the other hand, we can recommend herbal teas that contain plants that have a known virtue to help you have good sleep, such as verbena or valerian.

To continue the discussions on this column, go to:

Stéphane Besançon’s Twitter account

The Facebook page of the NGO Santé Diabète


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