This is going to be a mish/mash of topics because not only is this whole month National Nutrition Month, but National Sleep Awareness Week is also going on (March 13th – 19th). What I hope to accomplish here is show how sleep and nutrition work together to impact your wellbeing in a positive or negative way depending on your habits and to provide resources to help improve your sleeping and eating habits. First up, nutrition.
Nutrition, back to basics
Its common knowledge that nutrition plays a key role in your wellbeing. So why is it that good nutrition habits seem to be so hard to maintain? The answer is mostly about cost and convenience. Good, healthy, nutritious food can be pricey, can take time to prepare, and is rarely found when dining out unless you go to places where healthy food is “their thing” and even then, the results can be sketchy. That said there are some basic food principals that you can keep in mind that can help guide you and assist in building healthy, and most importantly, sustainable eating habits. I use the term “habits” intentionally because just like with exercise, breaking bad habits and creating and nurturing good habits is key. Simply put, short-term diets accomplish short-term goals. For life-long wellbeing, you need to create good eating habits that you do all the time while also working to get rid of bad habits like eating a donut with your coffee every morning or drinking energy drinks in lieu of getting enough sleep. Here are some goals to strive for.
Calories. While I am not telling you to start counting every calorie you intake during a day it is important to understand that every day you need a certain amount of calories for your body to function. Variables such as age, gender, activity level, and weight goals, will affect how many calories you should aim to consume in a 24-hour period. There are various calculators online and other tools out there that can help you come up with a rough number. However, it may be best to talk with a doctor or nutritionist to develop a plan that truly fits your body and your goals. Once you know how many calories to shoot for you can begin to approach meal time in a more objective way.
Eat more fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are very nutritious and are often the best, and sometimes only, source for certain vitamins and minerals. Supplements exist but data suggests that when we take things like daily multi-vitamins our bodies may not actually be able to absorb a lot of it. This is why it is important to make sure you are eating a balanced intake of plant-based foods to ensure you don’t become deficient in any vitamins or minerals which can cause mild to severe health issues down the line. Plus, studies show that a diet high in nutrient-rich vegetables can help prevent certain types of diseases such as certain cancers and diabetes. Here are some tips for increasing your intake:
- Have a daily fruit snack.
- Try to eat at least 5 ½ cups a day of fruits and vegetables, especially those with the most color, which is an indication of high nutrient content.
- Tuck a banana, apple, orange, some raisins or other dried fruit in your bag for a mid-afternoon snack.
- Use sliced fresh fruit as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and fresh yogurt.
- Substitute chopped vegetables for some of the meat in your recipes. For example: Add carrots, celery, and green and red peppers to meatloaf; mushrooms and spinach to lasagna; and celery, zucchini and yellow squash to spaghetti sauce.
- Drink a glass of 100 percent fruit juice with your meals. Make sure it is 100% juice as many juice brands contain added sugar and other fillers.
- Top hot or cold cereal with sliced bananas, fresh berries, raisins, or other fruit.
- Top lettuce-leaf salads with generous amounts of tomato, cucumber, celery, mushroom slices, onions, beets, radishes, green peppers, broccoli, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, or fresh fruit.
- Add chopped green, yellow, or red peppers, broccoli, celery, onions, and cherry tomatoes to rice and pasta salads.
Eat a variety of foods. It’s easy to find yourself eating the same stuff every week or even every day sometimes. But if you’re not shaking things up you could be limiting the variety of nutrients you’re getting and could find yourself becoming deficient in many important micro (vitamins/minerals) and macro (fat/protein/carbs) nutrients. This is why it’s important to be mindful about eating a good variety of food.
- Mix up the types of protein you eat. While it’s important to limit the amount of red or processed meat you consume for all sorts of reasons, try to make sure you are balancing your lean protein between all types of meat including chicken, fish, turkey, and plant-based proteins like tofu and beans.
- Add color to your diet. Even if you’re getting a lot of fruits and veggies, make sure there is plenty of variety in those as well. Strive to eat veggies of different colors as a simplistic guide. Get plenty of green, red, yellow, orange, brown, purple, etc. into your diet. The colors of fruits and veggies represent the chemical content in them meaning different color, different nutrients. The more color on your plate the better!
- Try recipes from new cookbooks or search the internet for sites with healthful recipes you can download. Check out a new restaurant or recipe each week or pick one night a week to create a meal you’ve never tried.
Limit the “bad” types of carbs you eat and eat more of the “good” carbohydrates. Eighty percent of your total carbohydrate intake should come from nutrient-dense carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain products (breads, cereals, pasta), barley, couscous, oatmeal, and potatoes. Stay away from the processed sugars in soda, candy, white rice, white bread, white pasta, in fact, as a friend and colleague of mine says, “if it’s white, don’t bite!”
Sleep, it does the body (and mind) good
I think it’s fair to say that we all have nights when we don’t sleep very well. While it’s fine to be a little tired every now and then, chronic sleeplessness can have drastic effects on your wellbeing far beyond simply being a little tired in the morning and can increase your risk of many physical and mental health issues that no can of energy drink is going to be able to fix. Sleep is when our body carries out important tasks such as resting, repair of the body, processing of short- and long-term memories, and hormonal regulation to name a few. To give ourselves time to carry out these tasks when we sleep, adults need to get 7-10 hours of sleep per night consistently. Being tired can even be dangerous. Driving, operating machinery, dosing out medication, and other tasks we may encounter on the job or in daily life can be risky or even deadly. In fact, the data shows that driving while tired can be just as dangerous or more so than driving under the influence of alcohol.
Unfortunately, our busy lives can prevent us from having the time to get enough sleep, too much anxiety to sleep at all, or secretly sabotage our quality sleep without our awareness through things like blue light from our mobile phone, TV, and computer screens which can impact our sleeping patterns drastically. But don’t despair, there are lots of actions we can take to help support our sleep and remove distractions and disruptors from our sleepy time.
Tips for sleep
Getting good sleep is all about setting up a good routine, being mindful of when and what you eat, and avoiding distractions around bedtime. Here are some tips to help you set yourself up for a good night’s rest:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. I know this one is hard for me too, especially on the weekends, but strive to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- Don’t exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime. The activity combined with the chemicals released during exercise can wake you up when you should be winding down.
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine. Both chemicals are stimulants and can cause sleep issues.
- Avoid late night snacks or beverages before sleep. Indigestion can cause sleep issues as can frequent trips to the bathroom.
- If possible, take medications that can disrupt sleep in the morning. Of course, if you have a strict medication schedule this may not be possible. Ask your doctor about this one if you have any medication caused sleep issues.
- Limit napping to early in the day. A 5 o’clock nap may sound good, but it may make it hard to relax come bedtime.
- Relax before bed. Read, listen to calm music, meditate, take a hot bath, or do whatever relaxes you and gets you ready for sleep. Stay away from screens though, the light coming from them can disrupt our body’s sleep cycles.
- Maintain a good sleep environment. Make your bedroom dark, comfortable, and distraction free. Keep daytime activities out, this means no TV or computers. Train your brain that the bedroom is only for sleep and other bedroom exclusive activities.
- Get out during the day. Getting exposure to the sun at least 30-minutes a day can help calibrate our internal clocks.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. Get up and do something relaxing to help keep the anxiety of not being able to sleep at bay.
To further tie nutrition and sleep together here are a few more ways the two interact in both positive and negative ways:
- Sleep and food are our primary sources of energy/fuel. They both support our ability to function in different and important ways. One cannot substitute for the other, however.
- Sleep regulates how your body uses energy and poor sleep can lead to higher risk of obesity and diabetes.
- Energy drinks are not sleep in a can!
- While some food and drinks can hurt your sleep quality, some things like decaf tea and other foods can help relax the body and mind for sleep.
For more information or helpful resources check out:
MINES Can Help
Hopefully, you can use this information help make National Nutrition Month (and National Sleep Week) a new milestone in your healthy habit goals for 2022. And remember if MINES is your EAP, you have access to a ton more resources through your online benefit PersonalAdvantage. If you don’t know your company’s login information, please contact MINES or your Human Resources department. MINES also has an extensive training selection for sleep, nutrition, and many more wellbeing, employee, and development topics.
To your wellbeing,
The MINES Team