Sleep, Activity, and Mood: Where Osteopathy & Nutrition Meet

What happens when we sleep? There are a great number of critical functions which occur that are critical to maintaining normal physiologic functions and repairing the body.  They include, but are not limited to:

However, if your diet is off and you’re misaligned, it may be difficult to achieve the restorative sleep you need to properly heal. Not to mention, inappropriately timing our lifestyle behaviors will disturb circadian rhythms, leading to altered physiologic responses such as poor sleep. For example, having late-night dinner and/or watching the news right before bed will have drastic consequences on a person’s sleep patterns. 

Let’s start with food. Poor sleep and high sugar intake are common in adolescents and adults. It’s been known for decades that dietary sugar intake is reportedly higher in children with sleep disturbance. In fact, a high sugar diet has a significant and immediate negative impact on decreasing the amount of time spent in stage one and two sleep. 

It also decreases attention span but increases it ONLY AFTER sleep, indicating a mediating effect of sleep. What this looks like in practice:  replace fruit juices, milk (naturally rich in sugar), and sugar-laden processed foods (i.e., cookies, cakes, granola and protein bars, candies, chips, etc..) with more tasty herbal teas like hibiscus, for example since they’re delicious and with no risk of side effects.

The healing effect of sleep is profound. The problem is the body eventually can’t keep up with the damage from high-sugar meals and hence, the amazing repair work done only during sleep diminishes. Poor sleep leads to many poor health outcomes such as learning disorders (i.e., dyslexia), mental health issues (i.e., anxiety, depression, bipolar), excess weight gain/obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune disease, to name just a few. 

This means altering sleep can fundamentally affect the food choices one makes and disrupts their macronutrient profile. Stated differently, if you are not adequately addressing sleep, then it makes improving the diet more challenging and life more stressful.

The literature makes a pretty convincing link between short/disrupted sleep duration and food intake, but not many studies have used controlled conditions to determine how food intake affects sleep. So, in general, there is little information on the role of diet on sleep patterns. That’s why the topic is not of discussion, and if it is, the topic centers around which one came first: The chicken or the egg? Studies are also small, of short duration, and with no clear focus on nighttime sleep episodes. Most of the effects of diet on sleep is based on epidemiological findings—findings that rely on self-report of food in-take or on the acute effects of a single meal (and we know that a single meal does not accurately reflect the composition of the whole diet). 

Recently, ad libitum food intake (i.e. eating whatever you want, whenever you want) was associated with a decrease in slow wave sleep and an increase in sleep onset latency. Indeed, over a third of individuals in this study increased their sleep onset latency to over 30 minutes after the ad libitum feeding day.

This is clinically significant because the 30-minute sleep onset latency threshold is typically used as a cut-point to indicate sleep onset insomnia. A higher intake of saturated fat (i.e., animal protein in the form of dairy products, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or nuts) with a lower intake of plant-based fiber (i.e., green vegetables) was associated with lighter, less deep and restorative sleep.

Finally, increased intake of both sugar and non-sugar/non-fiber carbohydrates (i.e., bread, pasta) was associated with more nocturnal arousals during sleep

Since there is currently very little information on the role of diet on sleep, very little guidance is traditionally given regarding how to optimize diet and lifestyle.  This is where integrative health providers play an essential role in understanding this connection and how to effectively address sleep disorders.  For example, a nutritionist can recommend the ideal diet suitable for sleep based on the person’s physiological needs. By focusing on returning the body back to proper alignment, an osteopath can stimulate deeper relaxation and lower stress cortisol levels. 

Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone, and it’s what helps you rise in the morning. So when cortisol levels are high, we are awake. The problem is when cortisol remains high, especially at night, we can’t sleep.  By helping the body relax, osteopathy plays a crucial role in optimizing sleep. This translates into increased healing and cellular energy production.

After initial osteopath treatments, the body becomes better equipped to maintain homeostasis of all organ systems. When the musculature relaxes, so, too, does the sympathetic nervous system, relieving destressed adrenal glands and high blood pressure. In 2020, the physiological state of being in sympathetic overdrive is demanding and exhausting. It’s not sustainable to your health because it’s not sustainable for your sleep.

Without question, when the body is properly aligned and functioning optimally, we feel lighter. Our whole mood improves. Our days are brighter. We become more physically active. And we can do more with our body on any given day. This, in turn, makes our sleep more healing. This is the physiologic state we should be in more often.

A growing body of research suggests osteopathy is a fantastic way to decrease stress, restore the body to its natural function, and increase healing. It’s a powerful aid to many health concerns—everything from managing hormonal changes during pregnancy to treating chronic pain. Osteopathy can be thought of as addressing many complaints all at once, compared to taking a drug for pain, a drug for stress, and another drug for hypertension. It’s clear which option offers you the most freedom to thrive and no side effects. 

Osteopathy is a noninvasive, drug-free treatment option (aka., no risk of addition, surgical complications, or side effects). It is rarely contraindicated with any other potential treatments.

In sum, diet and osteopathic treatments can influence nighttime sleep propensity, depth, and architecture.

What Our Patients Are Saying

“COVID-19 has been a challenging time to maintain healthy eating habits. Between working full time and attempting to homeschool my three young children, I've found myself turning to bad health habits more often than not as a way to cope with the stress of our new reality. A few weeks ago it became clear I needed support, education and accountability to help create a better health path forward. After only a few minutes on my Zoom chat with Advanced Health’s nutritionist Nicole Bianchi, I immediately started to feel more hopeful than I have in 3 months. Nicole approaches her work with empathy, kindness and wisdom - who doesn't need all 3 of those these days? It also becomes clear within a few minutes how incredibly SMART and educated Nicole is about her craft. I was blown away by how she educated me about the information behind her approach - by the digestible (pun intended ;-) information she shared and tools she offered to help me reach my goals. I'm only a week into the plan Nicole set for me and I'm already noticing a change in energy levels, weight and confidence that I haven't felt in months, if not years. If anyone is struggling with putting down the wine (and Doritios :) as a way to wash away a day of shelter in place and the turmoil our country is currently in, call Nicole STAT. I'm feeling so blessed that I did and more confident than ever marching towards my health and wellness goals. Stay safe all and THANK YOU NICOLE!” - Erica

“Julie has been great in helping me get back on track post-concussion. Andrew, the acupuncturist at SF Advanced Health, referred me to Julie as I started to get worried that my injury might also have spinal-related issues from the whiplash.  Julie’s therapy has been very helpful. She does a great job of listening to your symptoms, taking notes, and explaining the work as she's doing it.” - Audrey 

Are you considering osteopathic treatment or nutrition counseling to help you aid in relaxation, be rid of underlying tension, and/or better managing? Check out Advanced Health’s virtual educational seminar by our nutritionist Nicole Bianci and osteopath Julie Duggan on WEDNESDAY, October 21st at 6:30 p.m. 

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is one of U.S.'s top leading integrative functional medical physicians and the founder of San Francisco' top ranked medical center, SF Advanced Health. Her well-experienced holistic healthcare team collaborates together to deliver whole-person personalized care and combines the best in Western and Eastern medicine. By being an expert of cell function, Dr. Bhandari defines the root cause of illness and is able to subside any disease within weeks to months. She specializes in cancer prevention and reversal, digestive & autoimmune disorders. Dr. Bhandari received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1997 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 2001 from West Virginia University. She the completed her Family Medicine residency in 2004 from the University of Massachusetts and joined a family medicine practice in 2005 which was eventually nationally recognized as San Francisco’s 1st patient-centered medical home. To learn more, go to

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