Carbs or Keto for Sleep? | Chris Masterjohn Lite #49
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 into the
description so 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 things
that 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
favors GABA. 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
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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.