Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise – Create a Positive Cycle of Health

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season! Often this time of year disrupts our efforts to live healthfully. To minimize the consequences to our health, we need a strategy to reset our habits when conditions allow. Here is a wholistic view that will help you do just that, after the holidays or any time of the year:

Our health is made up of interconnected parts. Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are three such components that influence each other. When we take steps to enhance one, we create the conditions to improve the others by creating a self-reinforcing cycle.

Let’s start with sleep. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Maybe you experience segmented sleep, a pattern of being awake for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. No matter your natural sleep rhythm, you need to create the conditions for restful sleep. Create a relaxing bedtime routine at least an hour before you want to be asleep. Go to bed and wake up approximately at the same time most days. Limit naps to less than about 30 minutes.

Being well rested makes a huge difference in your ability to engage in, as well as recover from exercise. Sleep is when our body does housekeeping, building muscle cells, removing metabolic waste, and bringing to fruition the positive outcomes of physical activity.

Exercise in turn helps the quality and quantity of sleep. In some studies, engaging in regular exercise was associated with better sleep improvements than taking medication!

What is the connection between sleep and nutrition? Scientists have uncovered that the food choices we make are strongly influenced by how rested we are. Poor sleep reduces the production of hormones that signal satiety, so that we feel hungrier. We also tend to choose foods higher in sugar and salt compared to when we got a good night’s sleep.

Conversely, savvy food choices help improve how well we sleep. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar in the evening, as well as alcohol, which affects sleep quality. Fried foods, heavy sauces, strong spices, and rich desserts can be hard to digest and interfere with sleep. A light evening meal will promote a restful night.

A varied, balanced diet of whole foods rich in nutrients, fiber, and healthy fats provides the fuel needed for physical activity. You also need protein to support muscle development. So, nutrition is essential for exercising, which helps you sleep better, and therefore be rested so you can make good food choices. Everything is connected!