March 10, 2019 – Daylight Saving Time (DST) begins, and Americans SPRING FORWARD! Well, most of them will. Did you know that some states and American territories have opted out of DST? But, we are much more aligned today than we were before the passage of the Uniform Time Act in 1966 when the states were unregulated on when or whether they used DST. Before 1966, states, and even counties would change to DST on various days in the spring.
Spring forward means that we lose an hour of sleep. So, how does losing an hour of sleep affect you? If you’re already a bit sleep deprived (over 20% of American adults are), losing an hour can impact how you feel and act for days. Your circadian rhythm (internal clock) can also be affected if you are used to waking up in the sunlight, and now it’s still dark when you hop out of bed. Unfortunately, it can take a couple of days for your body to adjust to the new time zone. For some folks, this experience is similar to the sluggish feeling of jet lag. So, setting yourself up well to deal with this one-hour loss can be worthy of attention.
There are lots of reasons to ensure that you regularly get a good night’s sleep. Sleepy adolescents have significantly lower academic performance, increased school tardiness, and lower graduation rates than other students. For adults, daytime sleepiness has been linked to poor health on several measurements. It has even been associated with compromised professional performance, including physicians and judges. And it can be deadly. AAA reports that sleep problems contribute to more than 100,000 motor vehicle incidents and 1,500 deaths annually.
On top of these sobering statistics, epidemiological data show that sleep deprivation is linked to obesity worldwide. Three obesity-inducing phenomena happen when you’re sleep-deprived: You experience hunger more than you otherwise would, you consume more calories, and you make poor food choices.
Scientists are slowly unraveling the biochemistry behind these responses to sleep deprivation. Brain researchers have learned that when you are tired, your brain’s ability to evaluate your appetite significantly decreases – you feel hungry, even if you’re not. Meanwhile, there is an increase in activity in the amygdala, your brain’s fear center that prepares you for emergencies. Moreover, these changes are accompanied by a significant increase in the desire for high-calorie foods. Researchers have even determined that the subjective severity of sleep loss across participants is predictive of bad food choices – the more tired you think you are, the unhealthier your food choices.
Not only does your brain let you down when you’re sleep-deprived, but your physiology does, too. When you get fewer than seven hours of sleep, your hormones go out of whack. Ghrelin (the “hunger hormone” which stimulates appetite and fat storage) increases, while leptin (the hormone released by the stomach that tells your brain “I’m full”) decreases! Missing a few hours of sleep on a given night leads people to eat an average of an additional 559 calories the next day. Wow.
Now that we’ve examined a bit of the science behind why sleep is so important to good nutrition, what are some steps you can take so that “springing forward” does not knock you off your perfect night’s sleep and ruin your next day’s food choices?
In a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, only 42% of the respondents reported sleeping well most nights of the week. Of course, you can’t always have the perfect night’s sleep. Kids, pets, sleeping partners, car alarms, and more can disturb you and lead you to wake up exhausted. The best defense against making poor food choices (remember, your brain and hormones are going to be pushing for the unhealthy foods) is to have a food plan in place. Having a plan can help you retain control when your brain is giving you the wrong messages.
And, not surprisingly, the foods you choose to eat can also affect the quality of your sleep. The brain produces and uses melatonin, an important sleep hormone, and the amount of melatonin you create and how efficiently your brain uses it are both affected by diet. One of the most significant influences on melatonin levels appears to be your intake of tryptophan. B vitamins and magnesium help increase tryptophan’s bioavailability, so it’s important to get enough of those nutrients as well. And calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture melatonin.
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