How to Eat for Good Sleep

It’s all about breakfast, actually. I know, after an anxious night of tossing and turning, breakfast is probably the last thing on your mind. In fact, you’re often so tired, cranky, stressed, and late, that you only have time to grab coffee and a bagel on your way out the door. And therein lies the problem.

The quality of your sleep is very much affected by what you ate for breakfast 12 to 16 hours earlier. This is because your morning meal sets a cascade of hormones in motion that regulate your energy and biorhythms for the whole day. By evening, you’re still under the influence of these hormonal patterns.

For instance, a high carbohydrate breakfast (we’re talking pancakes, toast, muffins, pastries, cereal, and yes that old standard the bagel,) send your insulin levels sky high. This is true even for so called “healthy carbs” like oatmeal and fruit. The inevitable blood sugar crash that comes two hours later triggers a stress response from your adrenal glands, which then secrete high levels of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, your “fight or flight” hormone, can stay excessively high all day, and interfere with your sleep at night. You may feel exhausted but your body still thinks it’s being chased by a tiger; so you stay restless, anxious, and mostly sleepless, all night. Then you unwittingly repeat the same breakfast mistake the next morning.

Here’s how to do it differently: Your body is hardwired to digest protein and fat in the morning. So if you emphasize these foods for breakfast, you avoid insulin/cortisol spikes and benefit from more even energy throughout the day. My favorites breakfast foods are eggs, nitrate free sausage and bacon, raw cheeses, butter, full fat plain yogurt, well, you get the picture. And please stop worrying about fat and cholesterol. There is no evidence that cholesterol from eggs or fat from grass fed meat contributes to heart disease. I don’t have room here to go into that discussion, but there are articles on my blog about this. For now, we’re just talking about the effect of food on sleep. Eating protein and fat at breakfast sets the body clock up so that you have nice even energy flow all day, which tapers off gradually so you can relax and unwind at night.

And if you also refrain from sugary snacks during the day, which you probably won’t crave because you ate what your body needed in the morning, then your insulin levels will stay low, and your cortisol levels will settle down where they belong at night.

Of course there are many other tricks to getting a great night sleep. But this nutritional aspect is crucial. Give it a try, and call me in the morning.


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