Not getting all the Z’s you need? Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus met with me to explain how you can improve your odds.
With more tasks to accomplish than there are hours in the day, it seems like “get to bed early” never quite makes it onto our to-do lists. I know I have certainly been guilty of overscheduling my days, leaving only a 6- or 7-hour window for sleep—and that’s assuming I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. As if. Sometimes the switch that allows me to fall into a deep restful sleep just won’t flip, or I fall asleep easily and awaken several hours later. Sound familiar? If you are among the multitudes of sleep deprived, read on for smart ways to improve the likelihood of getting a good night’s rest, plus a recipe to help send you to slumberland.
Giada: I’m always reading that there is an epidemic of sleep deprivation in this country, but is this really such a health concern that it can be called an epidemic?
Dr. Michael Breus: Yes, it appears to be affecting everyone. Recent research shows that the number of people using sleep aids has risen 150 percent over the last 10 years. Sleep deprivation affects kids, new moms, drivers—you name it. Over time, sleep deprivation affects your ability to lose weight, causes memory loss, impacts cardiac health, and fitness health. Quite frankly, sleep deprivation affects every organ system and every disease state. Sleep is healing, so the less sleep you get the less your body heals when it is sick or injured. And it’s not just about illness or injury—sleep provides the opportunity to heal, renew, and refresh from the stress of everyday life.
GDL: Aside from being fatigued, what is the downside of cheating yourself out of an hour or two of sleep each day?
MB: As you become sleep deprived, your hormones become out of sync. This can have an effect on your ability to lose weight, or it can even make you gain weight. It makes exercise seem more difficult, it can impact your ability to operate a vehicle, and it can place you and loved ones in significant danger.
GDL: What is the connection between sleep and weight gain?
MB: It is mostly hormonal. As you become sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, the hormone that tells you to eat more, and you produce less leptin, the hormone that tells you that you are full. Your metabolism slows down as you become more sleep deprived, and you crave high-sugar, high-carb, and high-fat foods as you get more and more sleep deprived. It is basically a recipe for weight gain.
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GDL: I’m a sucker for fancy bed linens; does it just seem like I sleep better between really soft, luxurious sheets, or is that wishful thinking?
MB: The National Sleep Foundation did a survey a few years back and found that clean, nice sheets were something that many consumers felt contributed to a good night’s rest. I think comfort is a key ingredient to a great sleep environment. But a thread count of more than about 500 is probably overkill.
GDL: Does it matter what you wear to bed?
MB: Sure. You need it to be comfortable, and the right nightclothes can help with temperature regulation and moisture wicking. You wear anything that allows you to fall asleep easily because you are comfortable, and then lets you stay asleep because things like changes in temperature aren’t waking you up.
GDL: I confess to being something of a coffee addict, and I often have three or more Americanos a day. Is there any reason I should cut back if I don’t have trouble falling asleep?
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MB: People have different caffeine sensitivities. The thing to remember is that caffeine has a half-life of between 6 to 8 hours. Meaning that half of it is metabolized out of your system in that time. Just because you can fall asleep does not mean that you are getting the good quality sleep you need. Remember caffeine is a stimulant, which means that it will prevent you from getting into the good deep refreshing stage 3 and 4 sleep, which is where all the cellular repair and physical restoration occurs. I suggest replacing your last Americano with a half regular and half decaf version for 7 to 10 days and then going full decaf on the last day and see how you feel.
GDL: How does what we eat affect how we sleep—for better or worse?
MB: It depends upon what you eat. Some things will make you sleepy (certain carbohydrates, bananas, kiwi, and tart cherries), while other things may make you stay awake (spicy foods, foods with caffeine, etc.).
GDL: Are there particular foods that promote healthy sleep patterns? I’d always heard that eating turkey, which contains tryptophan, can make you drowsy. Fact or fiction?
MB: Turkey does have tryptophan, but you would need to eat a 46-pound turkey to get enough of it to matter. Kiwi has been shown to help with sleep onset, and tart cherries are high in melatonin, a hormone believed to help regulate sleep patterns. Foods like banana and halibut are high in magnesium, a calming mineral that is a natural relaxer for the nervous system. Broccoli is rich in all the vitamin B’s (B, B3, B6), which are vital in regulating your body’s use of tryptophan. Some studies have shown that B3 lengthens REM sleep and decreases wake time at night. B6 helps with the production of serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter. Also, broccoli helps your system eliminate caffeine faster, so it can help make it easier to fall asleep.
GDL: Is there such a thing as a “good” midnight snack, or is eating before bed just a bad idea all around?
MB: You should never go to bed hungry. It’s not only annoying, but it will keep you awake. The data suggests a high-carb, low-protein snack (under 250 calories) is a good choice. I suggest cheese and crackers, or even a bowl of oatmeal.
GiadaWeekly is the digital food and lifestyle magazine from cookbook author and Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis. To get a new issue each Thursday, download the app or subscribe at www.giadaweekly.com. And follow GiadaWeekly on Instagram and Facebook.