If you are wondering how to eat healthier, you have plenty of expert advice to consider. Some will tell you to drink more water and others will recommend easing into changes in your dietary habits. Smaller portions, chewing food longer, and eating breakfast are all common recommendations for people trying to eat more nutritious meals and healthier foods.
Then, of course, there are the recommendations about which foods are actually healthy. Researchers discuss the importance of protein, whole grains, calcium, fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, and different types of fats. Harvard University’s Healthy Eating Plate is served up as a roadmap for a nutritious and balanced meal.
And while all this dietary guidance about how to eat healthier is helpful, there is another commonly overlooked factor that could be driving undesirable food patterns. If you are one of the many Americans trying hard to make healthier food choices, you may want to put a good night’s sleep at the top of your “to do” list.
The Role of Sleep for those Concerned about How to Eat Healthier
Researchers are increasingly finding that feeling tired may make you more likely to turn to junk food when you are hungry. Dr. Stephanie Greer and colleagues (2013) found that people who are sleep deprived experience changes in the brain that weaken their ability to effectively evaluate food choices. Junk foods lower in nutritional value and higher in calorie tend to be more desirable to sleep deprived individuals.
This finding echoes other research by Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge and colleagues (2012) that connects sleep restriction with a tendency towards over eating, due to changes in brain activity and hormonal regulation.
In extreme examples of sleep restriction where people got an average of four hours of sleep per night, University of Chicago scientists found parallels between the glucose and insulin patterns of the sleep deprived with those suffering from diabetes.
What’s Required for a Good Night’s Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Infants, toddlers and adolescents need even more sleep. Infants between three and eleven months need between 14 and 15 hours of sleep a day, while children between 5 and 10 years of age need around 10 or 11 hours and teenagers need about 9 hours a night.
Factors that Influence Quality Sleep
Many things can affect whether a person gets a good night sleep. Individual behavioral factors like technology usage, food intake, daily physical activity levels, caffeine intake, emotional issues, and alcohol consumption may all have an influence on the quality of a person’s sleep.
Situational factors including the amount of light in the room, external noise, room temperature, and the quality, condition, and comfort of the mattress may also play a role in a person’s sleep quality.
There are many things you can do to set yourself up to make the best possible food choices – to reach for the fresh fruits and veggies instead of the French fries and cookies.
Based on the latest research, we now realize that part of a healthy diet involves more than meal routines and nutritional options. If you want to learn more about how to eat healthier, remember the role that quality sleep plays in helping you make the best food choices.