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Does Sleep Really Matter? How Sleep Affects Nutrition

Whether a patient comes for diabetes or digestive symptoms or anything else, at some point, the conversation will turn to sleep. How much sleep? What is the quality of the sleep? Is sleep interrupted? Sleep is really important in nutrition. But why? How is sleep related to nutrition?

Many of our body's functions are related to our circadian rhythm. These include hormone secretion, sleep pattern, hunger, and bowel habits.

person sitting on a bed, well rested after sleeping

Appetite Hormones that Regulate Nutrition and Sleep

There are appetite regulating hormones that are secreted in differing quantities during the 24 hour sleep/wake cycle. Leptin and ghrelin, the satiety and hunger hormones respectively, have peak levels in the bloodstream at different times of the day. This means that people will naturally feel hungry at specific times of the day.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Sleep

Gastrointestinal motility also differs based on time of day or sleep/wake cycles. At different times of the day, intestines move food along quicker or slower. Many people will describe that they move their bowels at the same time every day. These are all functions of how our intestine is in sync with our circadian rhythm.

Medical Conditions and Poor Sleep

There are also medical conditions that are known to be associated with disruptions in the circadian rhythm. For example, working night shift and working shifts that rotate between day and night are associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity, likely related to the elevated cortisol levels found in those with inadequate sleep. Some studies have also linked sleep deprivation to inflammation of the intestines and gastrointestinal symptoms!

How Else Does Sleep Affect Nutrition?

Besides for specific bodily functions that are affected by nutrition, there is another clear link between sleep and nutrition. When people are tired, it is hard to make good decisions about anything, and that includes decisions about what to eat! When you are well rested everything else gets easier. It is easier to focus, it is easier to make choices, and it is easier to think strategically. This means that good sleep can put you in a better position to have good nutrition.

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