The Importance of Rest to the Total Body Diet

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

How does sleep foster total body wellness? Recent research shows that a well-rested body and mind are essential to good health. Just as eating well and getting regular physical activity are important to your health, sleeping seven to nine hours at night is a must for revitalizing your energy, thinking, and muscle repair and recovery.

Sleep science, a relatively new field of research, reveals how sleep can affect overall quality of life.

Your body and mind work hard while you’re awake. Sleep allows your major organs like your heart, lungs, brain, muscles, and stomach to slow down and literally recharge. According to the National Sleep Foundation, here are some of the ways different parts of your body benefit from sleep:

  • Brain: Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly through the brain while you sleep, clearing away waste from brain cells, so your brain is clean and clear for the day ahead.

  • Heart: Your blood pressure and heart rate slow during sleep, giving the heart a break overnight.

  • Lungs: Breathing slows and becomes very regular during sleep, easing the load on your lungs overnight.

  • Muscles and joints: Growth hormone is released to rebuild muscles and joints while you sleep.

  • Stomach: Eating a balanced meal with a bit of carbohydrates (like whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or whole-wheat bread) along with protein-rich foods (like turkey or cheese) with some healthy fats (like avocado or olive oil) can keep your stomach satisfied overnight, which helps you sleep more soundly.

Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted during the nighttime hours that regulates your natural sleep-wake cycle and conveys day and night to your body. Melatonin is produced in the body with the help of an amino acid, tryptophan, which is found in high-protein foods like turkey, milk, and cheese. Certain foods naturally contain melatonin, such as tomatoes, walnuts, rice, barley, strawberries, olive oil, wine, beer, and milk.

However, before you go out and get these foods to aid in better sleep, a study in Food & Nutrition Research points out that the health benefits of diet-driven melatonin boosts seem not to be the product of any single food or nutrients present in the diet. So these food are not sure-fire sleep-aids. Still, it can’t hurt to get more nutrient-dense plant foods, as well as a few doses of lowfat dairy every day!