In episode 130 of his video series, Dr. Larson discusses:

Insomnia and sleep issues are a huge problem in the US. At least 30% of the adult population suffers from some sort of sleeping problem. There are typically two types of sleeping issues that people suffer from, some have a hard time falling asleep and others have a hard time staying asleep. Of course, some have issues with both falling and staying asleep, and it is a real issue. There is no better Swiss Army knife for health than sleep. There are so many beneficial physiological processes that happen at night, which are health-promoting. And there isn’t anything that we can really do during the waking hours to parallel the health benefits derived from good quantity and quality of sleep.

Dietary choices and the quality of the foods we choose matter very much for good sleep. I spend a lot of time with my patients to try to maximize their sleep, both quality and quantity. And part of what I do is emphasize dietary choices. A study recently released in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition out of Columbia University validated what I have been promoting to my patients. The researchers looked at how diet influences sleep. What the researchers found was something key happened in our diet that can affect both the quality and quantity of the sleep that we get.

The study pooled data from the Women’s Health Initiative, which had over 50k participants. Specifically, the researchers looked at food data compared with sleep issues. It was clear after analyzing the data that what women ate and the timing of when they ate it significantly affected their quality and quantity of sleep. The researchers separated carbs that came from a whole vegetable or whole fruit source and compared it to other carbs like those that came from added sugar, fruit juice, processed grains, pastas and breads, and things like chips and cookies.

What the researchers found was that the type of carbs you eat really does matter related to your sleep. As a person consumes a more refined source of carbohydrate, their blood sugar spikes and then the body releases insulin to match the glucose spike. When you eat refined sugar, the spike of glucose is much larger and so is the insulin that is released to match it. The glucose rushes in, the insulin rushes in to drop it down. When you eat large amounts of refined carbohydrates, the body doesn’t like it and it releases counter-regulatory hormones to help deal with the sudden change in blood sugar levels. Those counter-regulatory hormones are, for the most part, adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, which are both stimulants.


So, if you eat simple refined carbs within a time frame of trying to fall asleep, those stimulating hormones make it difficult to sleep. If you eat them before bed, and the process kicks in after you have fallen asleep, it makes it hard to stay asleep. So, people who have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep might want to examine their food choices, especially their carbohydrate choices. Diet can significantly alter your ability to sleep, which in turn can greatly affect your health. Consuming these processed carbohydrates in the morning can also be a problem, they can put your body on a blood sugar roller coaster all day. Because adrenaline and cortisol are both anxiety-provoking hormones, eating refined carbs throughout the day might be leading to feelings of anxiety – and if you consume them close to bedtime, they can affect your sleep.

So, make sure to prioritize your sleep by making sound food choices and you will quickly see your quality and quantity of sleep increase. And it might also help to reduce your feelings of anxiety. Remember, it isn’t just about a lower-carb diet, it is also about the quality of the carbs that you choose. With winter upon us, and the cold and flu season, getting the proper amount of sleep is critical to keeping your immune system working optimally. Your immune system can protect you from being susceptible to all the viruses and bugs that are searching for a new host at all your holiday get-togethers. So not only is eating well about maintaining a good weight and staving off chronic illness; it can also lead to better quality and quantity of sleep. I will continue to read the studies … and until next time, keep it real.

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