Metabolic Health: A Guide to Better Sleep
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Did you know that your metabolic health affects your sleep? In this article, I’ll explore this link. First, I’ll define metabolic health before discussing how it relates to sleep. Finally, I’ll provide some tips from experts on improving both your metabolism and your sleep.
Note: These general recommendations should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any health-related questions regarding sleep, consult your physician or a trained medical professional.
What is Metabolic Health?
Good metabolic health refers to having optimal levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the amount of visceral fat you have, and triglycerides (the most common form of body fat). (1) Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with all these terms. This post covers what you need to know about how your metabolic health impacts your sleep.
Our body’s metabolism involves hormones, organs, and enzymes that work together to digest, absorb, process, transport, and expel essential nutrients. (2) The liver is the central organ of the body’s metabolic process. (3) The adrenal gland, thyroid, and parathyroid (which is behind the thyroid and helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels) also play an important role in metabolism (4).
Metabolism is the process your body goes through to burn calories and use energy. Our metabolisms are constantly working to convert food into energy that we can use throughout the day. Some people have what is known as a fast metabolism, and other people have a slow metabolism; your “metabolic speed” is passed down genetically. (5)
According to Dr. Mindy Pelz, a nutrition and functional health expert, “A fast metabolism is really about two things: one is how well your metabolic organs can burn the glucose that enters your body from eating a meal.” A body that burns glucose well doesn’t need to store extra glucose as fat. “The second is that once you burn through the glucose quickly, your body will burn fat for energy.” This process is known as metabolic switching, and it allows people to switch from burning sugar to burning fat quickly.
Sleep and the Metabolism
Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation can impact your body’s ability to regulate metabolism. (6) According to one study, insufficient sleep (which the study notes as sleeping less than 8.5 hours in bed) can exacerbate existing metabolic diseases. (7) Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), insomnia, and narcolepsy can increase your risk for developing metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes. (8, 9)
If insufficient sleep can negatively affect your metabolism, can more sleep help it? Currently, there’s not much research to support that theory (10). Additional studies are necessary to determine if more sleep can help you lose weight. (11)
Tips for Better Sleep and a Healthier Metabolism
The diseases that can result from an unhealthy metabolism can affect your sleep. For instance, type 2 diabetes can cause insomnia. (12) Obesity can also cause insomnia, OSA, and restless leg syndrome. (13)
An unhealthy metabolism doesn’t mean you can’t get quality sleep. Let’s look at a few tips for getting a good night’s rest.
Improve your metabolism
A healthier metabolism helps you sleep better. To improve yours, start with what and how much you eat.
Your blood sugar (glucose) levels should not be above 100 mg after fasting at least 8 hours; greater than this amount indicates you may have an unhealthy metabolism. (14) You can help manage your blood sugar by portioning your meals. The CDC recommends the plate method, in which you fill a quarter of your 9-inch plate with a grain or starchy food, a quarter with lean protein, and half with non-starchy vegetables. (15)
Regularly eating fewer calories is better than going on a temporary diet. Going on a diet that drastically reduces how many calories you consume can backfire, because such a diet increases your body’s production of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” This hormone plays a big role in controlling your appetite. If you greatly reduce how many calories you consume, your ghrelin levels increase, so you want to eat more. This can cause you to “rebound” and gain weight once you finish dieting. (16)
Nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet, recommends eating lean meats or plant-based foods. She says this will help keep your cholesterol levels lower, reduce your waist circumference, and lower your blood sugar levels. She also suggests eating fruits and vegetables to help control your blood sugar levels. In addition, Dr. Pelz recommends eating healthy fats, which help stop hunger.
Dr. Mindy Pelz, renowned holistic health and fasting expert, says you should avoid all artificial colors and flavors, as well as red and blue dyes. She says, “Many of these ingredients block receptor sites for glucose and insulin, leading to weight loss resistance and poor metabolic health.”
Dr. Pelz explains that the best way you can improve your metabolism is by setting an eight-to-ten-hour window in which you eat during the day. This is known as time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. She says when your body spends more time in a fasted state, it repairs more efficiently, which helps prevent damage from a poor metabolism.
Lower your body mass index (BMI)
The CDC defines a low BMI as less than 18.5, a healthy BMI as between 18.5 and 24.9, and a high BMI between 25 and 29.9. (17) A BMI over 30 is considered obese, and those over 40 are considered morbidly obese. Low and high BMIs are based on the average of the population. Since BMI doesn’t account for a person’s frame, and it can look different depending on if you’re pregnant or have a high muscle mass, it is not a reliable indicator of an individual’s health. (18)
However, there’s a link between sleeping fewer than six hours and having a higher BMI. The inverse rings true: sleeping over nine hours is linked to a lower BMI. (19) This means that lowering your BMI could help you sleep better, and sleeping more could help lower your BMI.
To lower your BMI, you should exercise daily, avoid foods high in sugar, and try to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. (20) As I’ll discuss, doing each of these will help you sleep in addition to lowering your BMI.
Avoid sugar and refined carbs
If you want to sleep better, your diet must be healthy. Lisa Richards says there’s a link between what we eat and how well we sleep. She says, “A poor diet filled with sugar, refined carbohydrates, little fiber, and excessive saturated fat has been shown to lead to poor sleeping outcomes. Sugar and refined carbs throughout the day can cause sleep disruptions during the night…[because they] cause crashes, which can cause people to reach for more caffeine, which can disrupt sleep.”
Eat cherries, bananas, and oats
Cherries, bananas, and oats contain natural melatonin. This helps improve your sleep. Plus, the serotonin and magnesium that bananas provide help your body and mind relax at bedtime.
Lisa Richards says a nutritious diet helps you sleep better because it helps prevent problems that keep you from sleeping, such as gastrointestinal issues and rapid glucose rises and drops.
Dr. Pelz adds that these foods should be consumed at least two hours before bedtime, as this will help your body get into a parasympathetic state when you get to bed. “The parasympathetic nervous system is the relaxing nervous system and will help assist you into a deeper sleep,” she says.
Exercising strengthens your metabolism, which positively impacts your sleep quality, blood pressure, body fat, body weight, and more. (21) Throughout your week, you should do at least two and half hours of aerobic exercises. Twice a week, you should practice strength-building activities, such as lifting weights or working with exercise bands. (22)
Practice good sleep hygiene
If you’re eating healthy and exercising regularly, but are still finding it difficult to sleep, the problem may be a result of poor sleep hygiene habits. Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviors related to your bedtime routine, your overall sleep, and your sleep environment.
A few basic sleep hygiene practices include:
- Avoid eating large meals several hours before going to bed
- Meditate or read before bedtime
- If you read, stick with some relaxing material
- Try to stay away from difficult conversations at bedtime
Exercising is also a good sleep hygiene practice, because it tires your body before bedtime. Moderate exercise right before bedtime likely won’t keep you from sleeping, but you should avoid high-intensity workouts at least one hour before bedtime, so you have ample time to relax before bed. (23)
Creating a peaceful sleep environment is a big part of sleep hygiene. For that, we recommend these tips:
- Use a white noise machine to block out unwanted noises
- Keep your room dark by using blackout curtains
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress that is right for you, and takes into account your weight, shape, and preferred sleep position
- Use an aromatherapy diffuser to provide relaxing smells
- Keep your room at a cool, comfortable temperature
Last Word From Sleepopolis
Some of the best ways to improve your metabolism also help you sleep. Simple things like avoiding sugar and refined carbs, and eating oats and bananas earlier in the day and walking afterwards can improve your sleep and metabolism. And if you find you’re still experiencing sleep issues, then practicing healthy sleep hygiene habits, such as keeping your room dark, exercising regularly, and avoiding large meals several hours before bedtime, may be the solution.
Please remember that we are not medical experts, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you have any medical questions.
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- “How does the liver work?” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Aug 22, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279393/
- “Anatomy of the Endocrine System.” John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/anatomy-of-the-endocrine-system
- “The truth about metabolism.” Harvard Health Publishing. Mar 30, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-metabolism
- Sharma, S et al. Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology. Aug 2, 2010.
- Broussard, J et al. Impaired Insulin Signaling in Human Adipocytes After Experimental Sleep Restriction. Annals of Internal Medicine. Oct 16, 2012.
- Depner, C et al. Metabolic consequences of sleep and circadian disorders. Current Diabetes Reports. Jul 1, 2015.
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- Hargens, T et al. Association between sleep disorders, obesity, and exercise: a review. Nature and Science of Sleep. Mar 1, 2013.
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- “Manage Blood Sugar.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/manage-blood-sugar.html
- “What is Ghrelin?” Hormone Health Network. https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/ghrelin
- “Defining Adult Overweight & Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html
- “How useful is the body mass index (BMI)?” Shmerling, R. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-useful-is-the-body-mass-index-bmi-201603309339
- Grandner, M et al. The Relationship between Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index Depends on Age. Obesity. Nov 2, 2015.
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- “How Much Exercise Do I Need?” US National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/howmuchexercisedoineed.html
- “Does exercising at night affect sleep?” Harvard Health Publishing. Apr 1, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/does-exercising-at-night-affect-sleep