The holidays are a time of weight gain for a lot of people due to the high load of cookies, cakes, sugary drinks, and other foods high in sugar and carbs. Although some are able to limit this to only a few days, those who consume a high sugar/carb diet often may find themselves having trouble sleeping. High sugar and carb diets can impact sleep so it's important to understand this relationship to improve your sleep.
Reduced sleep latency
High sugar and high carb diets have been shown to be great at reducing sleep latency, or the time that it takes to go to sleep. Sugar breaks down to produce tryptophan which continues to break down to melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body's sleep wake cycle and induces sleep.
Poor sleep quality
Even though sugar and carbs may induce sleep, they also interrupt sleep making it hard to go to sleep. One study found that postmenopausal women who ate a diet higher in carbs and sugar had a higher incidence of menopause compared to women who ate healthier diets.
This is due to a few reasons. First, sugar releases orexin which is a hormone that induces alertness. In fact, those with narcolepsy have been found to have lower levels of orexin than those without narcolepsy causing them to fall asleep at inappropriate times or have extensive daytime sleepiness.
Secondly, sugar causes spikes in blood sugar which can cause the body to release insulin. If this process is happening during the night, it is causing an activity in the body, which is the opposite of what's supposed to be happening during sleep. This insulin release can lead to the release of adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that can interfere with sleep.
Thirdly, high sugar diets create a bundle of energy that needs to be burned by the body, so the body spends more time in REM sleep. REM sleep requires a lot of energy and takes away from time being spent in deep sleep which leads to the feelings of tiredness and a lack of refreshment after sleep.
Best diet for high energy and good sleep
The best diet for high energy during the day and good sleep at night are high fiber, high protein, and low carb or salt diets. High-fiber diets with a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables increased the amount of sleep that those who consumed this diet achieved. Fiber slows the rate that the body absorbs glucose which can reduce the problematic spikes in blood sugar.
Staying hydrated and getting to proper nutrition like vitamins D, C and selenium are also beneficial for sleep.