If you’re trying to get better sleep, should you be upping your carbs, or going keto?
Paradoxically, both of these strategies can help, but for different reasons. In this episode I cover why they can help, how to pick your strategy, and some ways you can gain some more freedom over which strategy to choose.
In this episode I mention the sleep recommendations that I put out last year. They can be found here: https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/sleep
This episode is brought to you by Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet. Everything you could ever need to know to optimize your nutrition, all in one place. Easier to find and use than ever before. Get your copy at https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/cheatsheet
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When it comes to healthy sleep, should I be eating carbs or going keto?
Hi I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com, and this is Chris Masterjohn Lite where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going talk about carbs or keto for sleep. I put up on my website last year recommendations for better sleep. I’ll link to them in the description so that you can read them if you’d like. In those recommendations I said one thing you need to do is get enough carbs.
My recommendations were that sedentary people aim for at least 100 grams of carbs and that the more active you are, the more you may need, two to three hundred grams for many very active people, maybe even four hundred for a very high-level athlete.
In response to that, some people had said, “I have been getting much better sleep on a ketogenic diet.” And I know cases where the opposite of that is true, but I’ve come to appreciate that there are some people who do sleep better on a ketogenic diet. And I’ve come to appreciate that there are some sensible reasons why that would be the case.
So let’s talk about why we might want to do one or the other. Carbs have three key values when it comes to promoting sleep. The first thing that they do is at any time during the day, this could be at breakfast, not only at dinner. Anytime in the day, more carbs
stimulates insulin. Insulin clears a lot of amino acids out of the blood, but it doesn’t clear tryptophan out of the blood. That means that at the blood-brain barrier, tryptophan can get into the brain more easily because the competing amino acids are lower.
Tryptophan, once in the brain, can be converted into serotonin and then melatonin, and melatonin is what tells your body that it’s time to go to sleep at night. So you have to get tryptophan into the brain at any time during the day, and carbs can help with that in order to get the melatonin later at nighttime.
The second thing that they can do is suppress the waking signal in the brain. In this case you probably want the carbs closer to bed in order to get that effect.
The third thing that they do is they make sure that your liver has enough stored glycogen, which is how you store carbohydrate, to release as blood glucose after dinner, before breakfast. If at night your blood glucose sinks, you might get a reaction of cortisol and even adrenaline that can make it hard to fall asleep or could wake you up in the middle of the night.
On the other hand, one of the things we know about ketogenic diets is that they can be useful for epilepsy. One of the thingsthat was anecdotally reported in the original research on the ability of keto diets to help epilepsy was that the children started sleeping better. And one of the best-demonstrated effects of the ketogenic diet that protects against epilepsy and might even promote healthy sleep is that ketogenic diets favor the…they alter the balance of glutamate and GABA in the brain in a way that
Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter, and GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. By favoring GABA, you get more calmness, you get more relaxation, and you might get better sleep. So, how might we navigate the difference here?
Well, clearly if more carbs works for you, then that’s evidence that that’s the best approach for you. If keto works for you, that’s evidence that that’s the best approach for you. But we might think of how to affect these processes in a way that gives us more freedom to choose which one works best for us.
For example, in order to get tryptophan into the brain, one way you might do that is to supplement with tryptophan on an empty stomach. If it’s on an empty stomach and you’re not eating protein from food, you get that same effect of increasing the ratio of tryptophan in your blood relative to other amino acids because you’re not eating other protein, and that might let tryptophan get better into your, get into your brain better.
I’d just start with one tablet or capsule of whatever you find on the market first. You can work your way up to see if increasing the dose has any effect.
The second thing is carbs suppressing the waking signal. Well, if you’re eating less carbohydrate, one thing you might want to try, if sleep is your problem, is to move the carbohydrates you do eat to later in the day. The before-bed timing might play a role in helping.
The last thing, having enough glycogen stored in your liver is something where you just have to pick one or the other approach. On a ketogenic diet you reduce your needs for glucose, and the reduced dependency on glucose can spare the stored glycogen. You have less glucose coming in to make glycogen, but because your need for glucose is less than that helps you get by on the lower amount.
But if you’re not keto adapted, if you’re, for example, in the 80 gram a day carb range, you might be in a range where you’re not ketogenic enough to reduce your glucose demand, but you’re not consuming enough glucose to replete your blood levels throughout the night.
And so you might be in kind of a gray area where you really need to go full keto or you need to pick the opposite direction and go up in carbs along the lines of my original recommendations in getting better sleep.
If the keto diet works for you for sleep, but it doesn’t work for you in other ways, or it’s not something that you want to sustain for a long time, you might look into alternative ways to alter the balance of glutamate and GABA in the brain.
In the next episode I’m going to look more generally at some things that you might be able to do to prevent what we might perhaps call glutamate dominance in this context and in others, such as glutamate sensitivity.
The audio of this episode was enhanced and post-processed by Bob Davodian of Taurean Mixing. You can find more of his work at taureanonlinemixing.com.
This episode is brought to you by Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet.
Everything you could ever need to know to optimize your nutrition all in one place. Easier to find and use than ever before. Get your copy at chrismasterjohnphd.com/cheatsheet.
All right, I hope you found this useful. Signing off, this is Chris Masterjohn.
This has been Chris Masterjohn Lite.
And I will see you in the next episode.