Sleep, snacks shift work and fertility

We are all guilty of having a little late-night snack now and then. We know it’s tricky to resist a biscuit or two if you are feeling peckish before hitting the pillow, particularly if you’ve stayed up late. We spoke to our nutritionist Gaye Godkin about why its important for both our overall health and fertility to get enough sleep and resist late night sugar cravings. This is particularly important in the context of those who do shift work.

Just as the planet has a daylight and night-time clock you’re probably aware us humans do too! The clock in each and every human is called the Circadian rhythm. This clock has the ability to impact every function of the human body. It relies hugely on the body getting regular good quality sleep. Deep, restorative sleep is considered to be the Holy Grail of Health. Maybe that’s why we love sleeping so much? Many dietary and lifestyle factors impact this type of sleep, including stress levels, exercise, illness, the food we eat and the times we eat at (Looking at you midnight snackers!) 

The timing of your meals probably has the most significant effect on this internal clock.  Late eating directly effects it’s functioning. Your circadian rhythm is the set of internal processes in your body that operates roughly on a 24-hour schedule and regulates numerous aspects of your physiology, from your sleep-wake cycle to your immune system. Light exposure is the primary regulator of the circadian rhythm in the brain. However, research indicates that meal timing may be an equally potent cue for circadian rhythms in other organs, such as your pancreas, liver, and gastrointestinal system.

SLEEP & DIET

Consuming meals at consistent times of the day and avoiding late-night eating are associated with both a robust, healthy circadian rhythm and with staying slim and healthy. Conversely, eating late in the evening is associated with disrupting your circadian rhythm. A healthy circadian rhythm promotes high-quality, restorative sleep, whereas circadian disruption contributes to sleep impairment. Lack of sleep effects concentration and energy and more importantly makes us quite irritable and cranky. Research suggests that eating late in the evening can cause you to wake during the night. A good rule of thumb is to aim to finish eating at least three to four hours before you hit the pillow.

SHIFT WORK & FERTILITY

One of the more delicate hormonal systems in the body are the reproductive hormones.  They are so sensitive to all internal and external factors and can very easily become disrupted, so we must be careful with them. While diet plays a huge role in hormonal production, sleep has a major impact on hormonal regulation. Studies have shown that women who work night shifts and get less sleep during the day experience menstrual changes. The monthly cycle may be prolonged, or a period may be missed. This type of disruption may cause a temporary stop of ovulation. Lack of sleep also increases appetite the following day. Many shift workers report craving carbohydrates to get them through the night and tend to reach for them the following day, donut anyone? If shift work is part of your career, it is important to prioritise getting good quality sleep.

Craving carbohydrates and sugar laden foods is common when you feel fatigued and need an energy boost. By prioritising sleep and feeling rested, these cravings lessen. Focus on choosing good quality protein three times per day. Aim to incorporate plant protein at least twice a day. Carrots and hummus are a great quick and easy healthy snack. Plant proteins contain fibre which creates fullness. Feeling full and satisfied gives a prolonged release of energy and reduces the need to snack. Taking a good quality supplement with B vitamins early in the day has also been shown to improve sleep quality. Vitamin B6 coupled with magnesium is particularly important for brain function Getting adequate sleep and avoiding late night snacks will work wonders for your overall health which is great news when trying for a baby.

Related article; Facts about sleep & fertility

References:

Circadian rhythms, sleep, and metabolism,  Journal of Clinical Investigation.  2011 Jun;121(6):2133-41. doi: 10.1172/JCI46043. Epub 2011 Jun 1

Circadian regulation of glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in humans, Metabolism Journal, 2018 Jul; 84:11-27  doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2017.11.017. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


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