Sleep, exercise and nutrition – the cornerstones of our health

Playing more sport, eating more healthily or smoking less – many people make a New Year’s resolution to take better care of their health in the coming year. They often forget that our health depends not only on a balanced diet and sufficient exercise, but also on a healthy amount of sleep. The importance of sleep is underestimated and it even seems that overtiredness may soon become the new overweight. Read on to find out how the three components of nutrition, exercise and sleep interact with one another.

How sleep influences our mind and body

Even if it is still not completely clear why we sleep, we certainly know that sleep is not a luxury: too little sleep can make us sick. Lack of sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes (type 2), anxiety disorders and depression. In addition, our skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity, physical performance decreases, we find it harder to concentrate, and we make more poor decisions.
Getting enough good sleep is therefore beneficial in every respect. This is because when we sleep our brain does not have to absorb or process any new stimuli. It is able to cleanse itself, that is to say process the collected information and separate information that matters from what does not. As a result, the things we have learned are stored over the long term and our memory is improved. We also build up tissue, bone and muscle when we are in deep sleep. Good and sufficient sleep therefore ticks all the boxes: it has a positive effect on our mind and body – and has been proven to make us happy.

Sleep and diet

Most people are aware that what we eat can influence our sleep: we find it hard to fall asleep after eating fatty foods or going to bed on an empty stomach. It is therefore recommended that we have our evening meal 2-4 hours before going to bed. Ideally, this meal should be light and low in fibre, so that our stomach is not too busy digesting it while we are falling asleep. Foods containing tryptophan, such as soy, tofu, buckwheat or pumpkin seeds, can also help you fall asleep. Those who still have difficulty drifting off into dreamland despite having had an early and light meal could try a glass of milk with honey, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg or a cup of tea (e.g. lemon balm, lavender, valerian).
Nutrition influences our sleep – and vice versa: insufficient sleep wreaks havoc on our hormone balance. This increases our ghrelin levels, which is our hunger hormone, and decreases our leptin levels, which regulates our appetite. As a result, we crave junk food and sugary foods, because we hope to get a quick energy boost from them. This also explains why sleep deprivation can lead to obesity in the long term – aside from other health problems.

Sleep and exercise

In addition to sleep and nutrition, the third pillar of a healthy lifestyle is sport. We build up muscle and regenerate our body when we sleep. Sleep therefore boosts our fitness level and prepares the body for our next sporting activity. Depriving ourselves of sleep hinders our own performance.
Exercise and sleep are interconnected: good sleep has a positive effect on our sporting performance – and exercise improves the quality of our sleep. Only those who do their intensive training in the evening may experience difficulties in falling asleep, as it may shift their melatonin rhythm back by up to two hours. It is therefore recommended that we refrain from any intensive training in the 1-2 hours before going to bed and instead only do some light exercise, such as going for a walk.