Carbs and Getting Better Sleep

The Daily Lipid: Getting Better Sleep -- Cool, Dark, And Lots of B6, Carbs, Calories, and Fat

In addition to getting enough fat, I also need to get enough carbohydrate.

In order to make serotonin and melatonin, the amino acid tryptophan needs to enter the pineal gland or cross the blood brain barrier. Certain amino aicds such as valine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine and tyrosine compete with tryptophan for entry into these regions. Eating protein tends to decrease the ratio of tryptophan to these other amino acids in the blood, and thus decrease its availability for serotonin and melatonin synthesis (1).

However, eating gelatinous animal products such as skin and bones would not have this effect because gelatin (collagen) is not rich in these competing amino acids.

Carbohydrate stimulates insulin, which drives these other amino acids into cells and thus has the opposite effect, making tryptophan more available (2). High-glycemic carbs are more effective than low-glycemic carbs (3), which is consistent with a recent study that found that high-glycemic Jasmine rice reduced the time needed to fall asleep in healthy volunteers relative to lower-glycemic Mahatma rice (4).

Thus, if you are eating low-carb or zero-carb and find that your mood and sleep is fine, your diet is probably working just fine for you, but if you are eating such a diet and find yourself having mood problems or unable to fall asleep, you may need more carbohydrate.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

I've discovered some of the same things that you report regarding fats and carbohydrates and their effects on good sleep. I find eating some FAGE full-fat yogurt with part of a banana mashed in it is very satisfying and allows me to fall asleep very easily about an hour later. It works extremely well for my young kids, too!

I also find I sleep very well (and feel very satisfied) when eating my mashed potatoes. I make them from about 4-5 boiled potatoes with about a half cup of raw whole milk (from Organic Pastures) and about 4-6 tablespoons of butter from grass-fed cows. The carbs/fats ratio is very nice in these mashed potatoes. I especially like making them with the raw milk after it's soured a bit in the fridge (usually a week after opening the bottle).

I also can't stand any light sources when I sleep and cover up all LEDs on the TV, clocks, charging devices, etc. My older daughter, on the other hand, cannot fall asleep in a pitch dark room because she's too scared of the dark. She seems to have no problem falling asleep with a night light on, even a bright one.

Tomas said...

I think that my personal observations regarding fat and carbs matches yours. Large bowl of potatoes with cream and butter, or puffed rice with heavy cream or some bananas with butter do the job. I even found out that, compared to eating lot of animal protein in the evening, carbs make me calm, tame and ready for sleeping. So I prefer a large steak for lunch and some carbs with fat in the evening.

I am experimenting with magnesium supplements as well, and the carbs/fat plus Mg plus meditation drives me deep into the theta. :)

john said...

Many studies have shown dairy products especially milk are great melatonin stimulators

Olga said...

Does anyone have a problem with staying asleep. I have no problem falling asleep. Going back to sleep after waking up at 3am is my problem. Has anyone found eating more carbs in the evening to be helpful with this problem? Also,Chris, how many carb so you eat during the last meal to improve sleep? I want a ball park number to start with. Thanks.


Kathleen DesMaisons wrote a book called Potatoes not Prozac, where she proposed having enough protein at each meal, and then a potato 3 hours after dinner. As you discuss above, this stimulates the insulin response and allows the tryptophan (from the protein eaten earlier) to cross the blood brain barrier. Apparently 3 hours is the optimum timing for this to happen.