Sleep, carbs and workout times

by (343) Updated December 20, 2012 at 5:51 PM Created December 20, 2012 at 4:36 AM

Hi all,

I'm looking for some advice regarding my awful sleep. I'm one of those people who goes to bed reasonably early (say 9.30-10pm) and falls asleep without too much problem, then wakes up anywhere around 1-3 am, is awake until around 6, then has to get up an hour later feeling like arse.


This has been going on for months. I've been fairly low carb paleo for around 10 months and I look and feel good. If I could just sort the sleep I'd feel great, so it's extremely frustrating! I'm fairly certain my carb intake/eating and workout times are the main pieces of this puzzle but I'm just not sure how to fit them together.

My routine looks something like... Up at 6.30-7am, a fat-protein breakfast with coffee about 9am, a fairly typical paleo lunch about 1ish (meat/fish with veg/salad, good fats) sometimes a snack of say nuts or some ham around 5 if I feel I need it, crossfit at 7, then dinner about 9. I crossfit 3-4 times a week, and eat dinner much earlier when I don't go, although this doesn't seem to make any difference to my sleep. Dinner tends to be smaller but heavier on the veg with the occasional small amount of sweet potato in there. I often finish this up with a hot drink made of camomile tea mixed with unsweetened cocoa powder, although more recently I've been drinking Natural Calm before bed (again, no noticeable difference).

I'm female, 5'3, 128lb, carbs are almost always under 50g and calories come in around the 1500-1600 mark.

Sorry about all this detail, I just wanted to provide a full picture! So, any thoughts on what it is about this daily routine that could cause me to be awake in the night? I've read that eating breakfast first thing can be helpful in resetting your cortisol/melatonin cycle, does anyone have any experience of this? Could the cocoa be making it worse? Up the carbs? I have to confess here a latent fear of upping the carbs; reducing them helped me shed about 25lb so I'm worried about increasing them and finding I gain sone of it back. Is this reasonable? Does anyone know if working out in the pm can affect sleep? I love crossfit and 7pm is really the only time I can go. It doesn't seem particularly late, but I do have a bit of a workout high afterwards.

Any suggestions at all would be most welcome, I'm at my wits' end.

Thanks :)

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4 Replies

1920 · December 20, 2012 at 10:53 AM

I encountered this a few months back. Was exercising rather intensively and frequently on low-carb. I simply wasn't providing my body with the appropriate resources to replenish itself post-workout. Would wake up around 3am every night without fail and slept restlessly after that. At first I thought my body was just trying to adjust to change in season or something. But it was just got to the point where I was becoming far too fatigued. Added some sweet potatoes to my diet and reduced frequency of my exercise (was overdoing it for myself) and am sleeping far better as a result!!! So I'd recommend experimenting with the increased carb approach post-workout.

Leaving a window of about 2-3hrs between dinner and bed may also help so your body has a chance to digest the food and relax.

Eating within 30 mins of waking is suppose to help balance your cortisol. Jack Krusse recommends this strategy for his Leptin Reset protocol.

I also found drinking hot beverages (esp. tea) causes me to wake up in need of a pee during the night. Is this the case for you?

2328 · December 20, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Not strictly paleo, but I eat chili w/ beans + some lard (2T) and cheese (1/2 oz. cheddar, shredded) for a carby meal 1-2x/week. The beans don't bother me.

343 · December 20, 2012 at 3:51 PM

Thanks guys. So the consensus seems to be, increase the carbs. Ok, I'll suck it up and increase the carbs! At this point, I'd much rather gain a couple of pounds than feel like this all the time.

Ok, to expand upon that, I've been lowish-to-low carb long enough that I've kind of lost perspective on how much is 'normal'. Depending on who you listen to, I guess there's a million different answers to this question and I realise it differs for everyone, but I'll ask anyway - roughly how much would be a good place to start? I tend to come in around 30-40g per day and get almost all my carbs in the form of green leafies, cruciferous veg, things like that. Something more carb-dense like a sweet potato would make sense in terms of minimising the amount of food I actually need to eat in the evening whilst still getting a decent carb hit, as I don't like to eat too much too close to bedtime.

Lastly, other than sweet potatoes (and fruit??), what else could be included in a healthy, carby pre-bed meal? I live in the UK so things like yams aren't so readily available where I live (I don't think I'd recognise one if I tripped over it).

I'm also going to try eating breakfast first thing and see how that works, although I don't think I'm going to like it!

Thanks so much for the advice :)

562 · December 20, 2012 at 2:32 PM

I have had a similar situation when I was training too much and not having enough carbs. Cortisol spiked skyroof...

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