How to lick insomnia without popping pills

May 15, 2007
Volume 04    |   Issue 20

If you have trouble sleeping at night, you might be tempted to try a sleeping pill to help you sleep. Or you might even try one of my favorite remedies that I?ve written about in the past. These can include melatonin or a cup of chamomile tea. But falling asleep at night might be even easier than you think.

In fact, when and what you eat at night can determine whether or not you lie awake waiting to fall asleep, or nod off quickly. Instead of taking a sleeping pill or another sleep aid, all you may need to do is adjust your diet.

You may already know that eating turkey makes people sleepy. It stimulates the production of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make a calming brain chemical, serotonin. But you don?t have to eat turkey every night. Carbohydrates also trigger serotonin production and help you get to sleep more quickly. It all depends on what kind of carbs you eat and when you eat them.

A recent Australian study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition found an answer to insomnia. When study participants ate a high glycemic diet four hours before bedtime they had trouble falling asleep. Eating a low glycemic diet at the same time, however, didn?t cause the same effect.

The study did find that the participants? ability to fall asleep wasn?t impaired when they ate high glycemic foods just one hour before bedtime. While this makes it sound like you should eat high glycemic foods one hour before bedtime, there?s a catch the researchers didn?t mention.

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You know that not all carbs are the same. While everything we eat eventually turns into sugar, the rate at which foods convert into energy varies greatly.

High glycemic foods - such as white rice, white bread, potatoes, candy, and soft drinks - turn into sugar quickly. They also trigger the production of insulin. A drop in blood sugar follows this burst of insulin. And it?s this low blood sugar that appears to be causing insomnia. If the drop in blood sugar occurs before bedtime, it can keep you up. If it occurs after you?ve fallen asleep, it could wake you up.

So if you want to fall asleep - and stay asleep - don?t eat high-glycemic foods at night. Your best bet is to eat carbs that are low glycemic - such as whole grains, lentils, beans, or berries.

Low glycemic index foods turn into sugar more slowly than high glycemic index foods. So they won?t impair your sleep.

You can find more information on the glycemic index on my website ( It?s available at no charge to all newsletter subscribers. Once you understand how quickly the foods you eat at night turn into sugar, you can choose foods that turn into sugar slowly for your evening meal.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Afaghi, A, et al, "High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset", Am J Clin Nutr, Feb 2007.

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