You wanna know what’s worse than having to wake up early? Waking up early when you don’t have to, still tired, but unable to fall back asleep. If any of you have experienced this, then you know, the struggle is real.
This recently started happening to me. At first I assumed it was simply because I was going to bed too late (I had been going to bed later than usual), and my circadian rhythm was set to wake me up at a certain time, so I tried going to bed earlier.
5-6 hours later, there I was again, wide awake. I then thought it might have been because I was exercising too late, so I tried doing my workouts a couple hours earlier… still woke up 5-6 hours after going to bed. I’m probably just around too much artificial light before bed, I admitted, so I hesitantly tried shutting my laptop an hour before I wanted to go to sleep… nope, still woke up tired and grumpy.
I even tried covering my eyes with a sleep mask to keep the sunlight from waking me up. Still no luck. I was getting increasingly discouraged, and quite frustrated at my inability to diagnose the issue at hand. Then, for completely unrelated reasons, my best friend and I decided to go on a 30 day reset. Basically just a maintenance reset, where you go strict paleo, without sweeteners, to start fresh.
With this, I decided to track every single meal, so that I could do some note taking on how different foods, and the timing of these, made me feel. While doing this, I began to realize I had been eating the majority of my carbohydrates earlier in the day. I knew better than that, but hadn’t been paying any attention to it before the reset.
So I tried eating more carbohydrates right before bed, and like magic, slept like a baby until my alarm woke me up 8 hours later!
Side note: Why does the phrase “Slept like a baby” suggest that you got a good nights rest… baby’s never sleep through the night, they’re the worst sleepers ever!
Unfortunately, there’s a common misconception, no thanks to a lot of mainstream fitness magazines, that you should avoid eating carbs after 6pm. No, no you should not do that, unless you want to end up in the annoying cycle described above.
My blood sugar was what was waking me up. Basically because I hadn’t been eating enough carbohydrates late enough at night (which is especially important after late night workouts), my blood sugar was crashing super early in the morning. This explains why I was waking up grumpy, and still tired, but unable to fall back asleep.
So how does this work, you ask? Basically, carbohydrates help you sleep in a couple different ways.
1) They prevent overnight blood sugar crashes. Exaggerated drops in blood pressure puts you into fight or flight mode, which cues your body to vamp up the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which can wake you up.
2) Carbohydrates increase the availability of your sleep hormones. When you eat carbohydrates with a high-glycemic index, your body quickly stimulates your pancreas to release insulin. This clears the way for more tryptophan to make its way to your brain, which triggers the production of melatonin and serotonin (sleepy time hormones).
So from now on, remember, protein in the morning, carbohydrates at night (SWEET POTATOES).