The Weight of Sleep


We may live in the city that never sleeps but the truth is we all need a good night’s sleep! 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night; yet the average American gets about 6.5 hours or less during the work week.

Not getting enough sleep, even short term sleep deprivation, can lead to mental stress, attention deficit, fatigue, and irritability. Sleep also plays a role in the risk of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and diabetes as well as hypertension, depression, and sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and insomnia. 

Most recently, studies have indicated that both insufficient sleep (less than six hours) and excessive sleep (more than 10 hours) are associated with weight gain and higher body mass index (BMI). Shorter sleep duration was specifically linked to increased fat mass in both children and adults. Furthermore, excess weight gain increases the risk of medical conditions that may interfere with sleep such as reflux, osteoarthritis and OSA. 

Sleep deprivation has shown to interfere with hunger and satiety hormones - leptin and ghrelin - crucial to regulating appetite, therefore leading to overconsumption of carbohydrate and high-calorie foods and consequently weight gain. A large majority of studies have shown increased consumption of at least 250 calories with limited sleep, and some up to 500 calories.   

Interestingly enough, short sleepers (less than six hours) not only consumed more calories, but had the least variation in what they ate, an important factor for a balanced diet. 

Dietary Tips for Better Zzzz Time: 

Highlight Complex-Carbohydrates

Carb-rich foods help L-tryptophan function better in the body. Foods such as whole grain bread, pasta, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, etc.), and sweet potatoes aid a good night’s sleep. 

Go Herbal

Chamomile tea especially is said to create a “hypnotic-effect” in sleep-deprived rats. Yet, many herbal teas (caffeine free) can help settle the stomach and induce relaxation.  

Emphasize L-Tryptophan

Think turkey! The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor to the hormone serotonin, which is said to produce relaxation and stable sleep. Other tryptophan-rich foods are chicken, soybeans, tuna, shrimp, salmon, milk, cheese, cow’s yogurt, beans and cashews. 

Be Melatonin-Smart

Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and synchronize the circadian rhythm. It is a powerful antioxidant that is naturally produced in the body and starts reaching its peak serum levels after nightfall, around 9 pm, and lasts up to 12 hours. Foods high in melatonin are tart cherries and/or tart cherry juice, tomatoes, olive oil, wine/grapes with skin, beer and walnuts.

  • For supplements. General recommendations are: 0.5 - 3 mg 45 minutes before sleep. Always consult your doctor since side effects can arise including morning. These side effects may include grogginess, sleepiness and small changes in blood pressure.   

Factors That Disrupt Sleep:

  • It takes about six to eight hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off. Try to avoid intake after 2pm. Note: caffeine is found in coffee, tea and energy drinks, but also in foods such as chocolate and guarana berries.
  • Drinking too much water late at night can disrupt sleep by waking you up to use the bathroom. Drink most of your water during the day.  
  • Large meals can cause indigestion; consuming especially heavy and/or spicy foods can lead to reflux. Eat a smaller dinner at least three hours before you go to sleep.
  • Alcohol can affect the deep stages of sleep.
  • Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome. Check with your doctor if you have symptoms. 

Sample Zzzz Meals:

  • Turkey and spinach sandwich on whole grain bread with a handful of grapes.
  • Salmon with brown rice and a side of green salad with olive oil. Served with a glass of red wine.
  • Natural yogurt sprinkled with tart cherries and walnuts. Served with chamomile tea. 

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS. RD

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr


The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain. Today’s Dietitian. 
Foods that lead to a good night’s sleep. The Wellness Advisor. 
Integrative Strategies for Cancer Patients. World Scientific 2012 
Does Your Diet Influence How Well You Sleep? Time, Health & Family.

Photo courtesy of Relaxing Music

Edited by TCabrarr