Are carbs important for getting a good night’s sleep?

Good for improving performance, carbs will give you a better night's sleep

Carbohydrates have long been getting a bad rap when it comes to diets. When most people think about reducing weight, one of the first and obvious options is to achieve this by cutting out carbs. Soon, we will be avoiding sugars, grains or anything else we think will negatively affect us!

Cutting carbs can certainly help you lose weight it is usually not the cause for weight loss. The fundamental issue is the amount of food we eat and calories consumed. We simply eat too much food, whilst leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

There are some key benefits for sticking with carbohydrates, such as performance improvements, although there is a lot of evidence coming out for the ketogenic diet (low carbs, high-fat) being both beneficial for health and performance.

However, there’s another reason for keeping up your carb intake. Carbohydrates are the key to getting a good night’s sleep and insomnia could result from a change in our dietary habits. This is the view of Sophie Lamb, a medical herbalist and former insomniac. With her Done Counting Sheep business, she is helping a lot of insomniacs by increasing their carbohydrate intake to obtain a restful night’s sleep. While a lot of this is currently anecdotal evidence and far from detailed research, it’s too easy to simply blame sugar and carbs for causing problems to our health. There are benefits.

Lamb believes that due to the lack of access to glucose (coming from carbs) in the brain meaning our body has to get it elsewhere by converting body tissues (fats and muscle) to glucose, and when this process is performed it requires cortisol, our stress hormone to be activated. This combined with adrenaline will supply our brain with glucose, however, this will activate our mental alert system and cause us to be more awake, and thus contributing to our insomnia.

As such, Lamb has added carbs to her client’s diets, many middle-class professionals, who are ‘health’ conscious thus cutting out a lot of starchy carbohydrates and mainly eating proteins and fats as a result, which can be restrictive. Lamb herself also trialled this when she was suffering from insomnia and as a result was able to improve her sleep almost immediately.

While more double-blind studies would be required to fully support Lamb’s anecdotal findings, this all makes sense and we definitely need to consider diets alongside, light, stress, exercise and other factors when looking to improve our sleep quality.


About Author

Alex is a keen fitness and nutrition enthusiast, residing in the US, and contributes to travel, fitness and nutrition tips, news and other interesting tidbits.