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sugar highs, brain rushes, and withdrawals--what a night that was!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

I had a difficult but enlightening evening Friday, and wrote the following article based on it. Upshot of it all is--eat for brain glucose stability and you'll sleep better and feel better emotionally too! And yes--I did eat some whole grain bread and was asleep in 20 min. ;)

Here's the article, if you're interested--has more specific food choice info.

It's 2:00 in the morning, and you've been awake for what seems like hours. You were ok when you went to bed, but after a while you woke up—and that was it. You can't find a comfortable spot, the pillow won't work, and your mind has started worrying over everything from the moderately scary to the totally terrifying. Worst of all, it feels like this could go on all night.

You've been around this block before, and you have a few tricks that have worked in the past. You turn down the thermostat, say your affirmation, and repeat some favorite scriptures. You breathe deeply, count everything you can think of. You finally get up and turn on the computer—but nothing works! You are up, and there is no sleep wave to be caught.

What do you do now? What in the world is wrong?

Before you give in to the despair of a sleepless night, stop and consider what you ate this evening. You may have eaten well all day (or maybe not!) but what you ate during the last few hours before bed can strongly affect how you sleep.

A typical scenario might look something like this:

You really did eat well all day, but in the evening some friends were celebrating and you met them for toasts and best wishes. You didn't over-indulge--just a couple of drinks, and some chips and dip when you got hungry. By the time you left, you didn't seem to have much of an appetite, so you decided to splurge on a favorite ice cream treat and call it an evening. You went to bed and dropped off just fine…but now, a few hours later--you're up and the night's gone bad.

What happened? You got sugar-high, and when the sugar ran out, your brain went into withdrawals.

Sleep is rest time for your body, but your brain works hard all night, and not just dreaming, either. Your brain has to provide everything you need to get to sleep, move through your sleep cycles, make all the clean-up and healing adjustments to your cells, and do the rearranging and tidying up of everything you learned through the day, so you'll be fresh, organized and ready to go in the morning.

To power all that work, your brain uses glucose. And to regulate that glucose throughout the night, you need a steady stream of slowly releasing carbohydrates, with a little protein foundation to hold things steady.

But when you pack in the empty calories, and especially when you add alcohol to the mix, your brain gets a fast sugar-high. You'll go to sleep--but when the high burns out, you'll drop into a brain glucose abyss. The empty, fast burning sugars are used up, and your poor brain is left with…nothing.

In an emergency you may save the day (or night!) if you get up and eat some slow-release carbohydrates like whole grain bread, perhaps with a little peanut butter protein to slow things down. But that strategy puts you at risk for building a habit of night eating—and night eating is a sure plan for obesity and sleep-cycle disaster. So while that may be a good one-shot fix, your best course is to plan your eating so that you have the right nutrition for healthy sleep.

Now it's true that healthy eating should be an all day affair—but we're going to focus on the food that supports you through your brain's night-work.

The goal of your evening food choices is to release the "feel-good, healthy sleep" neurotransmitters (the messengers that send instructions through your brain and body) so you can go to sleep and have everything your brain will need to work well all night. For that, you'll need protein and a balance of carbohydrates.

How do you get all the nutrients you'll need? Well, protein is the foundation. That includes meat, fish, eggs, even cottage cheese and nuts. Beans can be part of the protein mix, but they don't work on their own. You also need the good, slow-release carbohydrates. Those are vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes, avocado and asparagus, and fruits like cantaloupe, oranges and pineapple, as well as brown rice, whole grain breads, sweet potatoes. A few of the higher sugar white foods like white potatoes, white rice, and white bread can be ok, as long as you keep a good balance with the colorful, slower releasing choices.

Then there are the simple carbohydrates. Those are the "fun foods" that we love to indulge. Even though they're not all sweet, they all give us a quick sugar-high brain-rush—and then drop us into the brain glucose abyss. You can have some of these super-sugars—things like wine, beer, potato chips, pretzels, rice cakes, cookies and ice cream--as long as you have them in moderation. They will release lots of sugar, super fast, and make you feel drowsy and satisfied.

But the sugar-high, brain-rush foods can't stand alone. If you want to sleep for more than an hour or two, fun foods have to be eaten on top of--in addition to--your healthy carbohydrates and protein. And when you want to use your brain to think clearly, you'll want to skip these choices altogether.

Even when you're happy to fall into a stupor, sugar-high fun foods aren't a substitute for the slow-release, brain-sustaining foods. Without the long-acting proteins and slow-release carbohydrates, you'll end up right back where you were—awake in the middle of the night, with your depleted, sugared-out brain gasping for nourishment like a beached fish gasping for air, while you flop around in your bed.

So make some conscious choices for healthy sleep. Let your brain have what it needs for a good night's work, so you can get a good night's rest.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You guys are going to flip out on me when you read this but I don't sleep at all without the prescription my Dr. gave me!! ( I take two restoril at night) If I don't have them, I lay awake the WHOLE NIGHT OR A WHOLE WEEK OF NIGHTS!!! One night I ran out at my daughter's and my grandaughter had a "Twilight" poster beside the bed. I counted the guy's eyelashes the whole night and called my Dr. from Pennsylvania to renew my pills ( I live in Canada!) Drove home the next day so I could sleep. I had gone 5 nights without sleep...we had been on a cruise when I ran out. I do not abuse them. I have only taken the two pills a night and never had to take more. Also, sometimes if I can't get to sleep right away, I'll feel hungry and eat a piece of cheese or have a spoonful of peanut butter and I settle down. I know I'm terrible!!!! emoticon
    3619 days ago
  • JOHAL52
    Thanks for the enlightening article Deb! My nutritionist suggested I have a low carb, good protein snack about two hours before I go to bed. I notice that when I do I sleep better. When I don't (and I didn't tonight) I don't sleep well at all.
    3650 days ago
    Good to know! I've never really thought about it before but you are right on the mark with this. Thanks for posting!

    Take care,
    3660 days ago
  • GIVEUP30
    the older I got the more I don't want to sleep or can't but lately have been really getting in the walkd and exerciswes and I have been sleep for the last 14 days emoticon
    3664 days ago
    Sunday night I couldn't go to sleep and tossed and turned until at 1:00 I got up and took a tylenol P.M. in desperation. Last night I did the same only earlier. I figured it must have been the ice tea with caffeine on Sunday and the diet coke with caffeine yesterday at 4:00 that kept me awake. So My new mantra will be no caffeine after noon or else. Thanks for the blog.
    3665 days ago
    I have found the older I get the lighter sleeper I am. I'm not an evening eater, usually, but should one single tiny bit of chocolate pass my lips later in the day, it may has well have been a pot of black coffee (which I don't even drink) from 12-3 a.m. or so!
    3665 days ago
    Interesting--and I thought I only woke up to use the bathroom and get some water after having a drink or two....
    3665 days ago
    Interesting reading. Will be more watchful of meal planning, especially on those days where there is stress indicators towards a restless night.

    3665 days ago
    Interesting stuff... No wonder I do better when I have almonds as a "midnight" snack!
    3666 days ago
    This is a much welcomed blog. My sleep has always been unpredictable and a good nite's sleep is usually the exception to the rule. Guess I'll start doing a little experimenting with my late day eating habits and see what happens. Keep your fingers crossed. Thanks for giving me a potential solution!
    3666 days ago
    Deb this is very interesting. I have such a sweet tooth I am never in carb range. I really need to do something. The above sounds like a good plan
    3666 days ago
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