Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Healthy Diets and Peaceful Sleep

What constitutes “healthy eating”, and how can a healthy diet improve sleep quality?

A healthy diet is an often neglected component of insomnia-free, high-quality sleep. Foods affect sleep more than most people think.

Imagine for a moment a life where:

* You never feel tired or fatigued.
* You never yawn.
* You mind is always clear as water.
* You feel energetic and happy all day long.
* Feelings of ecstatic bliss are not uncommon.
* And you get by just fine on 4-6 hours of sleep.

Two major “secrets” to an energetic, happy lifestyle are:

1. Fuel
2. Rest

By fuel I mean the food we put in our mouths each day. The fuel our bodies go to great lengths digesting and extracting nutrients.

By rest I mean sleep. The nightly process that heals us from within and energizes us physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Dietary Secrets to Better Sleep

* Secret 1: Stepping off the roller coaster.
* Secret 2: Light meals
* Secret 3: Alkalize
* Secret 4: Sensitivity-Free

Secret 1: Stepping off the insulin roller coaster
Stepping off the insulin roller coaster will change you from the inside out. And it will do wonders to your sleep.

Insulin is a hormone your body secretes in response to carbohydrates (sugar). After a carbohydrate meal, insulin is released to prevent blood sugar levels from becoming too high (otherwise you would die from glucose toxicity). It prevents this by forcing sugar to enter cells, either to be immediately used as fuel or to be stored as body fat.

I mean by “roller coaster”:

* High carb/sugar meal
* –> High blood sugar levels
* –> High insulin levels
* –> Low blood sugar levels

Why is the Roller Coaster Bad For Sleep?
Reason 1: For your brain to conduct the sleep process, it needs a steady supply of energy.
Reason 2: The blood-sugar “roller coaster” absolutely destroys a healthy cortisol rhythm — your cortisol rhythm is one of the greatest determinants of your sleep quality.

The most common wisdom is that refined starches and refined sugars should be avoided. These foods include:

* Bread
* Cereal
* Bagels
* Potatoes
* Tortilla chips
* Rice
* Sweets
* etc.

All of these foods are high in refined carbohydrates and spike blood sugar levels notoriously fast, which creates a strong insulin response.

Foods that tend to act more like “firewood” — the slow-burning carbohydrate foods — include:

* Nonstarchy vegetables
* Some legumes
* Some fruits
* Most nuts

The energy from these foods are released more slowly. This is the digestive process by which our bodies evolved.

Secret 2: Eat Light Meals

A “heavy meal” is hard to define. A meal high in toxins might require more energy to digest. A meal high in artificial ingredients as well. A meal simply too high in calories might also sap your energy. Raw foodists believe that raw foods are easier on the digestion system, since the cooking process breaks down many of the enzymes found in living food — which I believe has some truth to it.

A light meal does not mean light in calories. Many raw foodists, for example, eat upwards 2,500 calories per day in mostly fruits and vegetables. Yet their meals are still “light” due to the natural, unprocessed nature of their diet.

Secret 3: Alkalize for Improved Sleep

Alkaline tissues can contain up to 20 times more oxygen than acidic tissue. Each cell can transport and use energy more effectively in a slightly alkaline environment.

Secret 4: Avoid Sensitive Foods

Foods like wheat and dairy were not part of the human diet for 99.5% of our history. It’s by unfortunate coincidence that some of the molecules in those foods can be mistaken by our bodies as a toxin that needs to be destroyed.

The protein gluten found in wheat and the sugar molecule lactose in milk fall into this category. 35-50% of the human population is gluten sensitive, while about 70% is lactose sensitive.

Sleep as much as your body needs. Although the promise of 4-hour sleep is enticing, a change in sleep need doesn’t happen overnight (and 4 hours is fairly rare). By giving your body high-quality fuel, you may find that you naturally need less sleep, but this process might take 2-3 weeks as your body “switches gears” and catches up on sleep debt. Typically on a super-healthy diet you might expect to get by on 6 hours very easily without an alarm clock.

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