Anyone who’s gotten a little drowsy after a big holiday dinner knows that food can make you sleepy. But aside from overindulging, it’s actually the type of food you eat that can influence how alert or sleepy you are. And one type of food in particular – carbohydrates – can send you off to dreamland, whether it’s bedtime or not.

If you are in your energetic teens and 20s, carbs may not affect you as much. In youth, our brain chemicals are on full speed, and whether we have pasta or protein for lunch may not influence how energetic we are the rest of the afternoon. But as we get older, we are likely to notice the food-mood or food-sleepiness influence. And now, a new study confirms previous research that carbohydrates do induce sleep.

To investigate the role of carbohydrates in sleep induction, researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia compared the effects of high- and low-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate-based meals. Twelve healthy men ate a carbohydrate-based meal (with 8 percent of energy as protein, 2 percent of energy as fat, and 90 percent of energy as carbohydrate) that included either low-GI or high-GI rice four hours before their usual bedtime. On another occasion, the men ate the high-GI meal one hour before bedtime. The carbohydrate-based high-GI meal resulted in a significant shortening of sleep onset compared with the low-GI meal, and was most effective when consumed four hours before bedtime.

Although we don’t normally advocate consuming carbohydrates, eating a higher proportion of high-GI carbohydrate at your evening meal, while having very little fat and protein, could be a boon if you have difficulty falling asleep at night.

But keep in mind that if you eat a meal like that during the day, you are likely to have difficulty concentrating. So, to stay alert at work, it’s best to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day that have a higher proportion of protein and fat.

[Ed. Note: Ray Sahelian, M.D., the author of Mind Boosters, is internationally recognized as a moderate voice in the evaluation of natural supplements. Visit Dr. Sahelian’s website at www.RaySahelian.com, and read more of his articles about the supplements you should and shouldn’t be taking at ETR’s FREE natural health e-letter.]
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