The Science Behind the Relationship between Nutrition and the Quality of Your Sleep

By Perrin Braun, September 8, 2014


Athletes spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to find the right sports drink, nutrition bar, or protein powder that could give them the extra edge during a competition. Here’s a little secret: knowing your biomarker status might be a more efficient way of improving your athletic performance than any other product on the market. Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, getting a sufficient amount of good sleep can help improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time.sleep


How does sleep affect athletic performance?

Not only can an insufficient amount of sleep make you feel tired the next day, but it can also have a big impact about what’s going on inside of your body. Sleep is the time for your body to complete all the phases that are needed to repair your muscles and release hormones that regulate your growth and appetite. If we don’t get enough sleep, we cannot perform at our best. Here are the specific ways that sleep deprivation can ruin your game:

Decreased energy – when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s ability to store glycogen is compromised. Your body converts glycogen to glucose (a type of sugar), which your muscles use as a primary source of fuel during exercise. Glycogen is particularly important for giving your body the energy that it needs for endurance events, so if you don’t get enough sleep, you will probably feel less energetic than usual. Poor reflexes – getting an insufficient amount of sleep can slow your reaction time. One particular study illustrated declines in split-second decision-making following poor sleep, and showed that subjects who were well-rested had increased accuracy on tasks that required quick decisions. Hormone changes – some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can impede healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. Additionally, it decreases levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body, which could prevent an athlete from recovering adequately from heavy training and further increase the risk of injury.

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Conversely, getting enough sleep can have some great benefits for athletes. A 2011 study at Stanford University tracked the sleep habits of the school’s basketball team and found that players increased their speed by 5 percent when they added an average of two hours of sleep each night. Other studies show similar benefits for athletes. Overall, sleep plays a very important role in physical functioning.

Does nutrition play a role in sleep?

Your eating and sleeping habits are often directly correlated. For example, overeating increases your risk for weight gain and sleep apnea, a condition that is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. For some people, eating fatty or spicy foods at night can increase the risk for conditions that may disrupt sleep, such as acid reflux, heartburn, gas, and cramping. Here are some biomarkers that may have an impact on how well you sleep:

Magnesium - There have been several small studies with humans and rats that suggest dietary magnesium can play a role in sleep. Magnesium is considered to be an “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles, which in turn can help people fall asleep. You can increase your intake of magnesium by eating many types of foods, especially leafy green vegetables. Other good sources of magnesium include: whole grain cereals, soybeans, nuts and seafood. Glucose – This blood sugar derives in part from the carbohydrates that we consume. After we eat foods that are high in carbohydrates, our digestive system breaks them down and turns them into glucose, which provides all of your cells with the energy that they need to function. How does this relate to sleep? Studies show that sleep loss can result in impaired glucose tolerance, which can increase your risk for diabetes. Also, any time your blood sugar is very high, your kidneys attempt to get rid of the excess by urinating. This means that you might be getting up to go to the bathroom all night long if you have elevated glucose levels! Testosterone – In addition to playing a key role in the development and maintenance of both muscle mass and strength, testosterone can impact your sleep. One study revealed that cutting back on sleep drastically reduced testosterone levels in healthy men. Low testosterone levels have a host of negative consequences, including: impaired sexual behavior, low bone density, and low muscle mass. Deficiencies in zinc, magnesium and calcium appear to lead to reduced testosterone levels. If your levels are low, try consuming foods with high levels of these minerals, such as almonds or hazelnuts; black beans, lima beans or black-eyed peas; lean poultry or beef; and dairy products such as skim milk.

For further information and suggestions that will help you to optimize your sleep-related biomarkers, explore your InsideTracker Nutrition and Food Menu pages. Happy sleeping!

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