October 25, 2022 2 min read
When I went on Dr. Oz a few years back, the director called me up and ran through ideas that we could cover on the show. By far, her favorite idea was a “Sleep Diet.” Of course, that’s a media idea. There isn’t a specific diet that leads to great sleep, but there definitely are foods that can make you sleep worse.
One thing to remember when thinking about nutrition and sleep, is that humans are the only animal on the planet that deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep—and usually for no good reason. Other animals will only deprive themselves of sleep under two circumstances.
1) They are being hunted.
2) They are starving.
If an animal can get up earlier, and travel farther each day, it may be able to find some more food. These animals know they aren’t getting enough food because their brains/glands have secreted chemicals that make them feel hungry and more awake. Interestingly enough, it’s very likely that our ancestors exhibited very similar behaviors as other animals—before industrialization, alarm clocks, and money.
We definitely have the same mechanisms built into our brains. One of the major triggers for these chemicals to be released is a rapid change in blood sugar. Your blood sugar doesn’t even have to drop particularly low, a large enough change will be perceived as potential famine by your brain, and it will wake you up to go find some food. This is one of the major reasons that pre-, and poorly controlled, diabetics don’t sleep well.
The amount your blood sugar will rise from any food is related to what is called the “glycemic load” and “glycemic index”. The former is the total amount your blood sugar will change over time, the latter is how quickly it will change. As you’ve probably guessed, this means that high glycemic index foods are what you need to avoid before bed.
So, what foods are those? Well, for starters, I would recommend avoiding the following:
1) Any dessert.
2) Starches: These are things like potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.
All of these foods taste so good because they are sweet. That means they contain glucose or another sugar with similar effects (such as fructose in fruit).
To be clear, I am not saying that you should never eat these things. I am suggesting that you not eat them within 4-5 hours of going to sleep. You don’t have to believe me; I just ask that you try it.
Sleep is a complex process with lots of failure points. In today’s age, I recommend doing your best to avoid as many sleep pitfalls as possible. Sleep is affected by nutrition and vice-versa. The key to health, fitness, longevity, and happiness is great sleep.
If you’d like to enhance your sleeping nutritional state, try out my nutritional supplement that I designed to help the Navy SEALs sleep. If it will work for them...
Sleep well my friends,
Kirk Parsley, MD