Surprising Connections Between What You Eat and How You Sleep

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Level Sleep recently spoke with Dr. Kevin Flythe of Bodyworks Chiropractic & Wellness Center. We asked Dr. Flythe how he advises his patients about ways they can improve their diet and habits to foster better sleep.

How does the food we eat affect the quality of our sleep?

We no longer follow a 9-to-5 schedule; our days have gotten longer and longer. Food truly affects the quality of life, and it causes problems when the food we eat is out of sync with our lifestyle.

We need to give our bodies time to digest. With the longer days we work we often eat 2-3 hours before bed, and even in bed, and that leads to inflammatory issues including acid reflux, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and other conditions—and it doesn’t help that we’re eating a lot more spicy and processed foods. Doctors are ending up prescribing Prilosec and other acid reflux medications, and patients are waking up feeling like they’re choking or can’t catch their breath.

We’re also in a caffeine world, and people think they need a nightcap to help them sleep. But it comes right back at you by creating an acidic environment, heating up your body and changing it chemically. And for those who smoke, nicotine does the same thing as caffeine.

What do you tell patients to do to address these challenges?

One of the biggest things is hydration. The Cleveland Clinic and other sources have recommended that you drink a glass of water before you go to bed, two when you get up. Hydration helps with the digestive process and helps cool the body down. I reinforce with my patients that they drink alkaline water, which helps the body repair itself.

What is the relationship between weight and sleep?

It’s huge, huge. Disrupted sleep increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and causes adrenal dysfunction. The whole endocrine system is affected, leading to our waking up just as tired as when we went to bed. And parts of the brain, including the pineal gland, which regulates melatonin levels, and the pituitary gland, which regulates a number of critical hormones, are thrown off. These hormones disrupt sleep and lead to weight gain because our systems can no longer properly regulate themselves. And without enough sleep, the body can’t recover.

Do you recommend any food detox or other programmatic approaches to improving sleep?

We do a food detox program here in the office. I also tell patients to keep a food diary, which helps me tell them what we need to eliminate. Lots of folks have aches and pains, and it’s the food that’s causing an inflammatory response. We also recommend alkaline water to alkalize the body, and eating more whole foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables and organic meat.

We also look at supplements. We often recommend melatonin at night, as well as valerian root, and magnesium. We need magnesium and calcium to allow the calm in the body, and sodium and potassium to create action potential in the muscles. We also suggest 5-Hydrodroxytryptophan and amino acids at night to calm the brain down.

What’s your favorite tip for getting better sleep?

  • Don’t wait until you get tired to go to bed. When you feel yourself getting sleepy, allow yourself to get prepared. Your body needs to gently go to sleep, not be forced to go to sleep.
  • Also, don’t do rigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bed, and learn to turn off the TV. Your mindset should be that your mind needs to be at ease. So, whether it’s soothing music with no voice, or meditation, something I do daily, be consistent and conscious about preparing for sleep.

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About the Expert

Dr. Kevin Flythe is the founder and leader of Bodyworks Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Marietta, Georgia. His practice offers chiropractic care, massage therapy, wellness coaching, and a variety of natural healing methods. BCWC focuses on the convergence of mind, body, and spirit, offering techniques that follow Eastern principles. More information is available at bodyworksperformance.com/ or by calling 770-988-0988.