Whether you’re experiencing interrupted sleep courtesy of young children, musical beds, hormonal changes or stress, there are plenty of us walking around chronically sleep-deprived.
The issue with sleep deprivation when it comes to our diet and weight control is that it has been shown that the fewer the hours of sleep we get, the more likely we are to snack and experience cravings for processed carbohydrates.
So if your night of shut-eye has left a lot to be desired, here are the food tricks to help you avoid reaching for the sugar and caffeine to get you through another long day.
READ MORE: Is your sleep wrecked? You need to ask yourself three questions
Protein is your friend
Whilst every cell in our body may be driving you to seek out sweet food when you are tired, the more you can keep your focus on protein-rich foods, the better.
This means starting your day with a savoury breakfast of eggs or baked beans rather than sweet pastries or plain toast and making sure each meal offers at least 20 grams of protein.
Focusing on protein rather than carbohydrate-rich meals will also help to stabilise blood glucose levels and minimise cravings.
Choose meals not snacks
One of the habits many of us are guilty of when we need a hit of energy is grabbing snacks to pep us up.
The downside of this is that this hit of energy is short-lived, lasting just an hour or two at most before we’re hungry again and reaching for another snack.
Focusing your energy intake on balanced meals through the day rather than snacks is your best option to support optimal energy regulation. Think eggs on toast, roasted wraps or sandwiches, protein yoghurt with granola, cheese and crackers with fruit, tuna and pasta. All nourishing, satisfying options minus the refined carbs and added sugars.
READ MORE: Doctor explains what poor sleep does to your appearance
Use caffeine to your advantage
One of the quickest and easiest pick-me-ups when you are tired is to grab your favourite caffeinated beverage.
With an average half-life stimulatory effect of 45 minutes, a poorly-timed caffeine intake is likely to leave you feeling far worse than revitalised when you’re exhausted.
Rather, teaming your energy drink or extra-strong coffee with a meal or snack will help to give you the hit you are looking for minus any stark drop in energy once the caffeine high has peaked.
Sipping on green tea or matcha are also great options with a more gentle stimulatory effect.
Know your natural energy foods
While all foods technically give us energy, some foods or food combinations are especially good choices when you need a nutrient hit and these are the ones to reach for when you are feeling especially exhausted:
- Vegetable-based juices offer a hit of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- Wholegrain bread teamed with nut spreads offer good fats and good-quality carbohydrates for sustained energy release
- Bananas are a rich source of vitamin B6, which plays a key role in energy regulation and is associated with improved mood regulation
- While dark chocolate, nuts and seeds combine a rich source of energy with a range of key nutrients including Vitamin E, protein, good fats and antioxidants
READ MORE: Surprising food and drinks that are ruining your teeth
End the day well
Getting through an entire day on minimal sleep is tough but setting yourself up for some decent shut-eye that night can be helped with the right food choices in the last few hours of the day.
Enjoy your last meal at least two hours before bedtime and small, light, protein-rich meals are your best options.
Think chicken breast with leafy greens or a legume-based dish like a bowl of minestrone, or beans with vegetables along with a glass of warm milk, or a slice of cheese before bed, which offers loads of the nutrient tryptophan, an amino acid known for its sleep-inducing benefits.
Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, co-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.
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