We’re hearing so much in the media lately about “low carb this” and “low carb that” and whilst it definitely has it’s place, especially if your diet is comprised predominantly of fast food – when it comes to better sleep, consuming carbohydrates before bed can actually have its benefits.
This is because studies have shown that when we combine carbohydrates with protein prior to having a snooze or nap, they assist the body in helping it get to sleep.
Well when we eat carbohydrates, it triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin (a hormone that helps to move sugar out of our blood and into the cells), which in turn, enables tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid derived from protein – get to the brain faster.
This leads to an increase in the levels of serotonin and melatonin – key neurotransmitters and hormones that form an integral part of the biochemical sleep pathway.
In other words, by giving your body the right foods (and nutrients) at the right time, this helps your body do what it instinctively knows what to do – that being relax the brain and body in a way that is going to help it get to sleep, and stay asleep.
A win-win for anyone working 24/7!
The key is finding the right carbs – and not avoiding them all together because when it comes to carbohydrates, just like protein and healthy fats – they are macronutrients that the body needs in order to be healthy.
When we say the words “carbohydrates”, however, most of us immediately think of pizza, pasta and bread!
But carbohydrates come in many forms. Many of which are designed exclusively by Mother Nature – as opposed to undergoing an enormous amount of “human intervention” such as all those pre-packaged, processed and refined carbohydrates that many of us have grown to know and love but are highly stimulatory when it comes to our nervous systems.
And if it’s stimulatory on the nervous system – then it means you’re not going to sleep well!
Good old fruits and vegetables however, are also a form of carbohydrate, so if we’re removing these from our diet, then it’s highly likely that we’re missing out on key nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are going to improve our health and sleep.
So what does a good protein and carbohydrate pre-sleep meal or snack look like?
- Chicken, cashew-nut and veggie stir fry with white rice
- Bacon, capscium and zucchini potato bake
- Oatmeal made from rolled or steel cut oats (instant oats will cause a blood sugar surge then crash, which can lead to sleep disturbances), topped with nut butter and sliced banana
- Gluten-free bread topped with smashed avocado, topped with pumpkin seeds (which are high in tryptophan)
The list is endless!
At the end of the day, it’s always going to come back to listening to your own body, because we are all uniquely different.
But the key takeaway from this post, is please don’t be scared of carbohydrates.
Whilst eating them in excess (like with eating anything in excess) – is certainly going to cause havoc on your health, waistline and sleep – especially if they include things like baked goods, soda drinks, packaged cakes, lollies etc. When we combine good carbohydrates with protein, it can set off a beautiful cascade of sleep-inducing hormones that will help to send you off to that wonderful place we lovingly refer too as “sleep”!
Afaghi, A, O’Connor, H & Chow, C 2007, ‘High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 85, no. 2, pp. 426-430.Lindseth, G & Murray A 2016, ‘Dietary macronutrients and sleep’, Western Journal of Nursing Research, vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 938-958.
Halson, S 2014, ‘Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep’, Sports Medicine, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 13-23.