With all the suggested supplements, tips, and endless “how-tos” to sift through, the search for better sleep can often feel overwhelming. But research may help to explain the culprit behind our slumber troubles: salt.
A 2021 study, presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Endothelin, showed that large amounts of sodium disrupted the circadian rhythms of mice. The team behind the study fed a group of mice a diet higher in sodium than the control group to study the effects on sleep.
Read on to see what this study means for you.
How is salt affecting my sleep?
Our bodies goes through a daily process called the circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle. This 24-hour cycle is essentially our body’s internal clock, telling us when to go to sleep and when to wake up.
The study found that the group of mice with the high-sodium diet didn’t follow their normal circadian rhythm. Instead, these mice had higher brain activity at night. While lab studies done on mice don’t always translate to people, they’re often used because they serve as great genetic models to humans.
In this study, Dr. Mike Dow, PsyD PhD and New York Times bestselling author, tells us that this the finding is supported by other known facts about sleep health.
“Research has found that a diet high in salt disrupts our sleep in many ways,” Dr. Dow says. “Salt narrows your blood vessels and makes the heart pump faster. This is, of course, the opposite of what we want to happen at night when the body is at rest.”
What happens when we don’t get any rest?
Unfortunately, bad sleep leads to all sorts of potential health issues, Dow tells us.
“The risk for just about every major disease increases when our bodies’ circadian rhythms are disrupted,” he says. “Infertility, depression, dementia, diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea are all linked to a disruption of our natural circadian rhythms.”
Dow says our diets play a heavy role in our sleep health. Eating foods high in sodium, inflammatory fats, and processed carbs have been shown to disrupt the rest we need.
“In many ways, sleep is the very first domino that falls,” says Dow. “It either sets our day up for success or creates a domino effect of overeating, fatigue, inflammation and irritability.”
How can we sleep better?
Of course, don’t forget to cut back on sodium. That doesn’t mean just salting your food less, as sodium is hidden in most processed foods, Dow says. Instead, make an effort to look into the foods you eat every day and try to cut out foods that exceed your daily limit.
This includes fast foods like pizza, pastas, and sugary desserts. Try eating things like fresh vegetables and fruits, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta as low-sodium replacements.
Dow also recommends that people stop eating at least three hours before bedtime to slow down your metabolic systems and prepare your body for rest. This goes along with setting a bedtime routine that starts an hour before you want to fall asleep.
“A calming bedtime ritual can include turning off screens, reading a book and adding an advanced Natrol Sleep+ Calm gummy,” he says (Buy on Amazon, $13.87). “The more you create a consistent bedtime ritual an hour before sleep time, the more your brain starts to create associations around bedtime — prepping yourself into a relaxed and sleepy state.”
Hopefully, these steps will have you sleeping restfully in no time. As always, consult your doctor before making changes to your diet and sleep regimens.
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