‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy and wise… ‘ Benjamin Franklin

As much as I appreciate striving for our own individuality, proper nutrition and sleep are 2 basic needs for any living being and that should not be tampered with. However, we are always looking for short cuts in these two areas, and some of us think that their body is unique in only needing 4 to 5 hours sleep and is able to run on coffee and snacks alone. But not having enough sleep or a body filled with junk food will leave ALL of us with diminished energy and compromised cognitive and executive functioning.

As a nutritionist providing workshops helping organisations create a healthy work environment, I can’t stress enough that a healthy diet is nothing without adequate sleep. Yes, nutrition is important in building our immune system and creating the best possible environment for our brain the function at its peak. But without sleep we cannot prepare ourselves for the next day; During sleep we are forming new pathways which helps us learn and remember information, and adequate sleep is imperative for that part of the brain where we make decisions and solve problems.

Now, these two life essentials, are intertwined: Lack of sleep makes it difficult to follow a healthy lifestyle. With not enough sleep, we tend to ‘over snack’. The lack of energy is the reason we eat way too much sugary carbohydrate laden snacks to overcome this, creating a vicious circle of a drop in blood sugar and sugar cravings. And with the changing mechanism of our appetite hormones and the reward system of our brain kicking in seeking out unhealthy food, it makes it even more difficult to stay on track with a healthy diet.

It is like a dog chasing its tail, with unhealthy reactions to lack of sleep and unhealthy lifestyle causing lack of sleep and going nowhere. Since we have to start somewhere to break this cycle, here is my top 3 of lifestyle habits which I believe influence our quality of sleep the most:

Wholefood based diet
The quality of our diet is of great importance. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet with a balance of the right fats and plenty of vegetables promotes the best sleep. The same findings were evident among female Japanese workers. A diet with plenty of fish and vegetables saw better sleep results than unhealthy snacks and processed carbohydrates. Which shows it is not a matter of geography but a large amount of vegetables and the use of healthy fats.

The right balance of Macronutrients
Besides the right quality we also need the right quantity of macronutrients. Not enough protein causes us to have difficulty falling asleep, where as too much protein makes it harder to stay asleep, according another Japanese study among middle aged workers. Carbohydrates, another important macronutrient is also beneficial for a good night sleep, as long as they are complex carbohydrates.

Watch your eating patterns
When we eat is as important as what we eat. Our dietary patterns influence how we sleep. Skipping breakfast, irregular eating and large meals before going to bed influence the quality of our sleep. Our mealtimes are closely related to our circadian rhythm, so messing with the meal patterns will inevitably have a negative influence on your sleeping pattern.

Remember that you are never to old for a bedtime routine, so beside the right foods and meal time planning, a good bedtime routine will have a positive effect on your sleep as well. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleep and not a storage room for laundry baskets and unpaid bills. Make sure your room is at the right temperature for you and use natural fibre bedding. Go to bed approximately at the same time, and get up at the same time, even in the weekends. Because wouldn’t it be great if we woke up healthy, wealthy and wise…