This is Part Two of our sleep-quality series. In this installation, we'll be going over macronutrients, nutritional supplements and the proper timing of liquids. Your diet can affect more than just your waistline, it can also affect your sleep. Although, poor sleep can certainly blow up that waistline.
First, let’s start off with macronutrients. These are fat, protein and carbs. Now we could go over some cliché tips like don’t eat much before bed, no carbs after a certain time, blah blah blah BUT seeing as you are an individual with unique needs, I want to arm you with lots of information to help you figure out what is best for you. Some of my best eating habits have flown straight in the face of old-school, conventional wisdom. We live in an era with far more dietary advice than just “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. In fact, we are inundated with voluminous and often conflicting nutrition information even if we don’t seek it out. I have had several people over the years start teaching me all about their new diet they are on, all the while mispronouncing the name of it. Instead of telling you what fad to follow, let’s instead go down a rabbit hole for a little bit.
First up in the macronutrient consideration department is carb timing.
"Only in the morning!"
"Only around workout times!"
"Only after workouts!"
So many styles with so many answers. In the end, our body uses carbs as energy. They also are protein-sparing as they can limit protein breakdown in the body, serving as an adequate energy source. What you need to determine is when you need that energy and the subsequent reciprocal blood sugar spike and insulin spike. Insulin, being the storage hormone, will try to store whatever energy sources are present in your bloodstream, be they fats, proteins or carbs. Obviously this is simplifying a very complex topic but do you really want to talk about glucose-mediated transporters right now?
Instead of googling those, use your effort to genuinely and objectively decide when you need to induce large storages of energy. Trying to get really big and really strong? You probably need more and larger pulses of carbs. Trying to lean out for beach season? Perhaps less and fewer storage sessions. Something in between? Maybe something with predetermined carb times like Carb Back-Loading (carbs after hard resistance training workouts) or The Anabolic Diet (carb refeeds at the end of low carb weeks) are a good choice. Just keep in mind that your carb timing serves the right purpose.
Now I know you’re thinking “what the heck did that have to do with sleep?” Well, carbs can impact growth hormone and melatonin release when ingested and still abundant in the bloodstream pre-bedtime and in early sleep stages. However, good timing with the right kind of carbs can raise insulin, thus lowering blood sugar at an appropriate time to ride that insulin high to dreamland. Here is a link to a video from the incredible Dr. Rhonda Patrick discussing melatonin release and its affect on the pancreas. I told you this was a rabbit hole, didn’t I?
NOW, protein and fat timing. Here, conventional protein timing for body composition and sports performance dictates that spread out feedings to fit in your protein needs with perhaps larger pulses before and after workouts. This may very well work great for you, but I want to introduce you to a novel idea revolving around nutrition and its ability to upregulate certain aspects of your nervous system. The sympathetic (fight or flight) system and parasympathetic (rest and digest) system are a very interesting yin-yang in our body and the macronutrients you eat can greatly affect which is stimulated. This can be used to a huge advantage in your daily life as it can help you to time your macronutrients to optimize which system you want to be dominant. Give this StrongFit podcast episode a listen to hear this idea fleshed out far further and consider if any of these ideas can benefit you!
Lastly, we will be brief on fat timing on its own. If you are someone who wakes up in the middle of the night starving, with low blood sugar, a meal with a good amount of healthy fats soon before bed may be the answer. The slower digestion time of fats may sustain the blood sugar release from the other macronutrients of the meal so as to not give a disruptive spike but also keep you on an even keel for longer so your brain doesn’t think you are starving and wake you up suddenly to find food. With appropriate caloric balance for the day, this option could help you to have healthier sustained sleep and be less likely to binge. Just one more consideration for you to ponder.
Nutritional Supplements for Sleep-Quality
There are a ton of supplements out there that claim to help sleep but a few stand out that are well-researched and common for good reason.
Magnesium, in spite of all its importance in regulating a plethora of processes in the body, is commonly lacking in people’s diets. Not only is it crucial for appropriate electrolyte balance, it also helps stimulate calming mechanisms for your body. A common combination is ZMA which stands for Zinc Magnesium Aspartate. This aspartate form of magnesium paired with zinc is aimed at decreasing two common deficiencies that can impair sleep and other bodily functions. However, a couple of other magnesium forms are worth consideration. Magnesium glycinate is a common sleep aid for its calming and cooling properties. Magnesium threonate is more available to the brain which can provide some faster neurological benefits. For more information on these and other magnesium forms, I am going to stand on the shoulders of giants and link a great Thomas DeLauer video on this topic.
What? Mushrooms? Yes, mushrooms. With outstanding properties like helping your body adapt to stress and better regulate anxiety and cool names like Lionsmane, mushrooms are getting more and more mainstream. With plenty of research behind them, adaptogenic herbs are all the rage nowadays and the reishi mushroom is one of the best. Noted for its effect on sleep-quality and much more reishi is widely available. I have some reishi powder in my kitchen as we speak and writing this paragraph is a good kick in the rear to get back to taking it every night. There is a trend for companies to include portions of the mushroom that don’t include active ingredients mixed with the good stuff so be sure you do a little extra research and get a high-quality product.
Melatonin and Tryptophan
I know you were wondering when I was going to get around to the most famous natural sleep-aid out there: melatonin. Your body produces melatonin naturally to tell you it is time to wind down and fall asleep. But as we discussed with our macronutrient timing section, that process can be messed up by some of our eating habits. And if you read Part 1 of this series, you know that blue light exposure inhibits melatonin production at the right times as well. In these cases, melatonin may be just what you need. However, overdoing it is very common. I myself have a high tolerance to most medications and began taking double doses of melatonin with no noticeable benefits. I merely woke up feeling incredibly groggy and that drowsiness lasted for the first few hours of my day. As I later learned, just about any dosage of exogenous melatonin will be more than your body naturally produces when it is doing alright on its own. So more and more was not the answer. It turns out that melatonin production may not be your limiting factor for sleep-quality even though it is such a common supplement. Here is where we have to consider tryptophan. This amino acid, best known for being in turkey, helps with your body’s natural production of melatonin and serotonin. This could be the limiting factor for your body’s natural sleepy-time cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones. So only after reading Part 1 of this series and fixing your sleep hygiene, should you then figure out with sleep aid is best for you.
Check out these additional videos for great insights on melatonin and many other useful supplements we don’t have time to discuss here.
Last but certainly not least is liquid ingestion. Having to get up in the middle of the night to pee can not only affect your sleep but the sleep of those around you. Yes, I’m talking to you neighbors in the apartment above me. And quit stomping so much!!
I have been complex enough in this article, so let’s keep this topic simple. If you have issues with urination at night that disrupts your sleep, taper your liquid intake off at the end of the day but be sure you get enough in earlier in the day to make up for that taper. Boom. Done.