Sleep Health

Jess Spendlove on Nutrition and Sleep

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We had a coffee chat with our health expert, Advanced Sports Dietician Jess Spendlove, to discuss her thoughts on the connection between nutrition and sleep and to understand what has been learned so far regarding these two important aspects of health.

How crucial is eating well for a good night's sleep?

It's a significant controllable factor, which includes your diet, alcohol and caffeine intake. However, other behaviours like screen time, exercise and morning sunlight exposure must also be considered.

What are the benefits of eating well for healthy sleep?

Sleep and nutrition can positively or negatively impact each other. Poor sleep can lead to overeating or choosing unhealthy food options, while poor food choices can affect sleep. Improving the quality and quantity of your diet can improve your sleep.

What are the best foods for a good night's sleep?

It's more about eating patterns and the time of day you eat. Consuming regular meals with a balanced diet of lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats throughout the day can reduce the risk of overeating and craving sweets at night, which can affect sleep.

What changes do you experience after a good or bad night's sleep?

A good night's sleep results in more energy, clarity, focus, productivity, and energy levels. A bad night's sleep leads to irritability, tiredness, grumpiness, lack of focus, energy slumps, and brain fog. Poor sleep can also increase hunger and the desire for sweet foods.

What should one avoid eating or drinking for a good night's sleep?

No caffeine after lunchtime! I used to drink two coffees and four shots a day, but it was more out of habit than necessity. I have noticed an improvement in my energy and sleep since cutting out the second coffee. Perhaps the increase in coffee prices has also helped me cut back.

Large or heavy high-fat meals can also slow digestion and impact sleep. Be mindful of spicy foods and drinks containing caffeine such as teas.

Can sleep or lack of sleep affect what you eat?

Yes, poor sleep can affect nutrition in three ways:

  • Increased hunger and likelihood of overeating
  • Increased cravings for sweet foods for a quick energy boost
  • Disruption of hunger and appetite hormones (increased gherlin and decreased leptin)

What are some of your personal practices for healthy eating and good sleep?

  • I eat three regular meals per day with one or two snacks
  • I don't go more than 3-4 hours between meals and snacks for regularity
  • I have dinner 2-3 hours before bed
  • Main meals contain lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats
  • Snacks include lean protein, whole grain carbohydrates, and fruits or vegetables with healthy fats if possible.

Lastly, what are some foods that Australians should eat more of?

The key to success in nutrition is to examine your current habits and make adjustments. Two important things to start with are increasing your intake of colourful foods and balancing your protein sources at each meal. Most Australians don't consume enough vegetables, so adding more colour to your meals can boost fibre intake, reduce the calorie content of your food, and aid in weight loss. 

Additionally, be aware of your protein sources and ensure you have enough at each meal. Most people tend to eat too much protein for lunch or dinner, but not enough for breakfast. If incorporating eggs and sourdough into your breakfast routine isn't feasible, try having a high-protein yoghurt with a banana or another protein-rich option. Remember: colour and protein!

Do you have any final tips to share?

For those who struggle with eating well, I suggest giving yourself permission to outsource – if it's within your budget. This doesn't necessarily mean hiring someone to cook all your meals, but rather opting for a meal delivery service or doing an online grocery shop. You can also opt for pre-sliced salads to make meal prep easier. Remember, we can only do so much, and outsourcing can be a way to give yourself a break when you're feeling tired.
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