Breaking the stress-sleep cycle: How exercise and diet affect your sleep | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Have you recovered from the holidays, after all the late-night celebrations, catching up with work, pursuing other responsibilities, and jet lag from your most recent trip? Have you been getting enough sleep lately? What’s the best amount of sleep you can get that will make you feel energized and refreshed when you wake up? Studies have shown that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to function well and achieve optimal health. One to two hours of sleep deficit (or sleep debt) can result in unproductivity, and can give you low energy for workouts and increase your cravings for high-calorie foods during the rest of your waking hours (17 hours or more). A 2016 study shows that it takes four days to recover fully from one hour of lost sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mental and physical health problems affecting your overall quality of life.

Daily stressors (traffic, work deadlines, family and financial issues) and serious life events (illness, loss of a loved one, losing a job, and marital separation) significantly affect your sleep duration and quality. This lack of sleep further impacts your stress level the next day. It’s time to break the unhealthy stress-sleep cycle. It can lead to serious health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems (high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke), asthma, and depression.

You must strategically prepare your body for waking hours to get a good night’s sleep. Everything you do can make you feel better or stress you out. Eating, exercise, work, attitude, relationships, and the rest of your daily activities, can greatly affect your sleep from the moment you wake up until you sleep. Manage your energy, boost your immunity, and devote your energy and attention to the most effective sleep habits.

Manage your time and organize your daily activities.

Based not on the current sleep recommendations, decide the best time to sleep and wake up and do your very best to stick to your schedule. Instead of grabbing your phone to respond to messages and check social media, allot a few minutes to condition your mind and body. Fully wake up by meditating, praying, or doing positive self-talk to start your morning positively. 

Be extra mindful of your total well-being by expanding your self-awareness regarding your exercise, diet, and sleep habits through self-monitoring. Create a lifestyle journal and/or get a fitness tracker that informs you about your activity, stress level, and sleep.

Organize your thoughts and make time to create and finalize your schedule, plan your activities, complete your morning self-care, and accomplish your chores. Gradually transitioning from your sleep to facing a new day with a plan can help regulate your stress levels throughout the day. 

Take some quick breaks during the day by walking 5 to 10 minutes outside your house or office, talking to loved ones, and doing deep-breathing exercises. If there’s an opportunity, take a 15- to 20 nap that can recharge and re-energize your mind and body.

Prepare your body for restful sleep by avoiding tasks that require you to use your brain heavily, such as completing and resolving workplace tasks and issues. Do something relaxing one to two hours before you sleep.

  • pray
  • meditate
  • listen to music
  • read a book
  • have a soothing bath
  • watch a feel-good movie
  • get a gentle massage
  • create a happy conversation with your family
  • complete your daily journal

Get the right exercise with the right intensity at the right time.

Studies have shown the positive effects of exercise on sleep. You can get a good amount while quickly getting to deeper phases of sleep, that’s very important in muscle recovery, general body repair, and immune health. However, pushing yourself to exercise hard the next day after attending a late-night party and getting less than seven hours of sleep can negatively affect your stress level, exercise performance, and overall productivity.

If you are an early bird (early riser), try to exercise in the morning and early afternoon when your energy is still high. You can still exercise in the evening, but avoid intense workouts that can affect the quality of your sleep. If you are a night owl (stays up late at night), do moderate to intense afternoon or evening classes and still get a good sleep. However, regardless of sleep volume and quality, if your stress level is already high during the day because of work and other responsibilities, consider doing lighter workouts in the evening. Sometimes, a stressful day combined with high-intensity exercise can add to the overall stress, making it harder for you to sleep early.

Sleep deprivation can affect your workout quality and recovery, increasing your heart rate throughout the day, contributing to additional stress, and making it harder to sleep. Sometimes you need to rest or do light-intensity workouts such as yoga, brisk walking, light dance cardio, or light to moderate weight training. Then focus on preparing yourself for a complete and quality sleep.

Improve health and weight by eating well.

Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain because you have more time and opportunity to eat throughout the day. A study shows that one sleepless night can already cause fat gain and muscle loss. It can also cause hormonal imbalance, making you overeat and crave sugary, high-carb, and high-fat foods such as pizza, sweets, and chips. 

Good sleep can prepare your body to eat healthily while considering the most crucial eating strategies needed. But despite your intentions to eat well, the lack of preparation can still lead to an unhealthy lifestyle (lack of healthy foods, exposure to unhealthy foods, and wrong timing of meals). 

Food restriction can add to your stress, so avoid skipping meals. Nourish your body throughout the day with healthy meals, giving you the much-needed energy to survive your day.

Avoid excessive dieting or food deprivation. You’ll have a hard time sleeping because your body will look for food, and you will think more about food that can last the whole night. If you get hungry at night, try grabbing a handful of nuts, some yogurt, a banana, a glass of milk, and a hot cup of relaxing tea (chamomile and lavender).

Hydrate well during the day. Consume coffee in moderation. Too much intake of coffee can aggravate your stress levels. Avoid drinking coffee after 3 pm because the caffeine can stay longer in your body, making it harder for you to fall asleep.

Late-night eating can poorly affect your overall sleep. Eat your last main meal three hours before you sleep so you can digest your food well before you sleep. Avoid spicy, high-fat, and sugary foods that affect your sleep quality. 

Avoid salty foods such as cold cuts, chips, pizza, and foods with heavy sauces that can lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention that can wake you up in the middle of the night to urinate.

Avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime. It can cause sleep disturbances during the most critical stage of your sleep cycle, Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which is very important in learning and memory.


Email the author at or follow/message her on Instagram @mitchfelipemendoza

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