Four Diet Tricks for a Better Night's Sleep
You’re tired. The day is dragging on and no matter how hard you try, you can’t summon the energy to get things done. Maybe you’re trying to launch a new business, or gunning for a promotion, but poor energy levels are crippling your productivity.
It happens to the best of us. A study found that 76 percent of Americans are regularly tired while at work.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to recapturing your energy. Yes, more hours of sleep is one solution. But many of us struggle with insomnia, and others wake up after a long night's rest still feeling exhausted.
Often, your diet is the source of your lack of energy. It’s easy, especially when you’re busy and stressed, to eat junk foods, processed foods and all the rest. And maybe the occasional trip through the drive-thru is all right, but a habitual bad diet will wreak havoc on your energy levels.
Two years ago, I was struggling to keep things under control. I'd let the stress of a heavy writing schedule and running my business take a toll on my body. Even as a health and fitness enthusiast who has run 15 marathons, I stepped on the scale one day and was horrified by how much weight I'd gained. I signed up at the nearest OrangeTheory fitness studio and renewed my commitment to working out every day. It helped a little. But thanks to my mid-life metabolism and a propensity to snack on carbs to boost my mental energy while working, I was stuck. The answer, to my chagrin, turned out to be better nutrition habits. I discovered I was eating far too many carbs and far too little protein. Now, I take every opportunity to share my hard-won wisdom with others. Here are four easy diet tips I'd recommend.
Consider a Diet Overhaul such as Keto, Carb Cycling or Intermittent Fasting
Getting the energy you need from your diet isn't always as simple as you think. In fact, even a traditionally healthy diet (read: lots of vegetables, strict calorie intake, etc.) can leave you lacking energy. Of course, everyone's bodies are different, so it's advisable to try out different diets or to work with a nutritionist to see what works for you.
But in my case, since I discovered I needed more protein and less carbs, I've found a carb cycling program to be really effective. On weekdays, I aim for 40-60 net grams of carbohydrates (you get to subtract one gram of carbs for each gram of fiber) per day, plus 100 grams of protein per day, in 25 gram increments spaced 3-4 hours apart. Balancing healthy fats, the goal is to hit a total of 1200-1800 calories per day. If I need to trim a few pounds I lower the carb level down to 40 or fewer net grams for a period of perhaps 10 days (never more than 14). But I always leave the protein component moderate-to-high at 100 grams per day.
A ketogenic diet is another great option for people looking for more protein in their diet. The keto diet is a very low carb, low sugar, high (healthy) fats die. The idea is that once your body runs out of carbs to use as fuel, it begins to break down fat for energy, putting the body in a metabolic state of "ketosis." Some fitness advocates recommend cycling in and out of keto in a weekly 5/2 cycle (five days on; two days off). In any case, using an app like MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople, which is my personal favorite, which makes it easy to track and analyze what I'm doing in no more than 30 seconds per day.
Another popular plan for entrepreneurs is Intermittent Fasting (IF). In this program, you consume all food, regardless of the core program, within an 8-hour window that would generally end by 6 or 7 p.m. A nice aspect of this program is that the 15-16 window of fasting occurs largely during your sleep. Advocates of this program generally sleep very soundly because their digestive system is able to rest fully.
Eliminate Added Sugars
Not ready to commit to a formal regimen just yet? You're still likely to see boosts in your energy levels by simply reducing added sugars. You’d be surprised how many foods contain added forms of sugar; it's not just in colas and candy bars. Spaghetti sauce, dried fruit and yogurt often contain added sugar even if they appear to be “healthy foods.”
Yes, sugar can lead to a short-term energy boost. Your favorite candy bar might seem like a quick pick-me-up. But you'll pay for that temporary high, because sugar rushes are typically followed by blood sugar crashes. You may get a few minutes of increased productivity, but in the hours that follow you will have even lower energy, and crave more sugar. An added benefit of cutting added sugars from your diet is that once you do it, you may find a more radical overhaul (like keto or a low carb diet) more manageable.
Alcohol is a Terrible Nighttime Downer
Alcohol is a powerful sedative. Some whisky on the rocks or a glass of wine might seem like the perfect way to unwind and fall asleep sooner rather than later. But alcohol interferes with deep slumber, so even if you manage to fall asleep earlier after a drink or two, the quality of your sleep will be worse. If you’re looking for drinks to help you sleep, consider chamomile tea or another healthier option instead.
Speaking of the right drinks, water is always the best choice, and you should drink plenty of it. Unfortunately, 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated — roughly the same number of Americans tired at work.
That's probably no coincidence, because dehydration can impact your sleep. If you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to have a dry, itchy throat that irritates you at night, and even the glass of water at your bedside might not be enough to provide relief. Several extra glasses of water earlier in the day, however, could help. Dehydration can also lead to a number of issues like leg cramps, which can wake you up in the middle of the night, disrupting your sleep cycle. You might not even remember waking up, but you’ll feel the impact of a poor night’s sleep come morning.
Overall, our nutritional choices have a huge impact on our ability to get healthy sleep, and how rested we are has a huge impact on how much we can achieve in a given day, week, month or year. However you look at it, we really are what we eat.