Why Healthy Carbs May Help You Sleep Better

Last updated on : May 21 2023

collage of healthy carbs laid out on table

Article Summary

According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition eating healthy carbs four hours before bed can shorten sleep onset - that is, they can help you fall asleep faster. 

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why that might be - jump to the section you want by using the links below. 

How Do Carbs Help You Sleep?

Healthy Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Things to Avoid with Your Bedtime Carbs

Common Sleep Distractions


Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Carbs Help You Sleep? 

A recent study suggests carbs with a high glycemic index may lessen the amount of tossing and turning you do before falling asleep, especially if eaten about four hours before you hit the hay or when the weather is hot.

The study revealed that high glycemic carbs might boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in the quality of your sleep - helping you fall asleep faster.

However, to benefit, you must choose your carbs wisely because high glycemic index carbs are generally not healthy to eat. They can also lead to weight gain and mood swings due to rapid fluctuations in your blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Also, you don't want to eat them too close to your bedtime. At least 4 hours before, according to the study.

Let's take a closer look at healthy v bad carbs and what might constitute a healthy sleep-inducing snack. 

Healthy Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Some foods can make your blood sugar shoot up very fast. That's because your body quickly converts carbohydrates with a high glycemic index like refined sugars and bread into glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy.

In contrast, your body digests carbs with a low glycemic index like those in vegetables and whole grains much more slowly - and this slower digestion results in a more constant impact on your blood sugar levels.

Good Carbs

The best carbs are those with a low glycemic index and rich in phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that protect against heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.

Phytochemicals also serve as an anti-inflammatory agent and are natural antioxidants.

Good carbs include low glycemic fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed whole grain fiber such as brown rice and quinoa.

Bad Carbs

Bad carbs include highly processed cereals, pastries, and refined bread. These types of carbs are low in nutrients and fiber and are high in sugar.

These are the carbs that make your blood sugar levels act as a rollercoaster, making you feel a series of highs and lows if eaten throughout the day. 

Still, according to the study, these carbs might help you fall asleep faster. 

Healthy Sleep-Inducing Snacks

As the study suggests, eating high glycemic carbs 4 hours before your bedtime could help you fall asleep better. However, given the nature of these "bad carbs," nutritionists suggest you make the bedtime meal a small one and add foods not only high in protein but also tryptophan, such as dairy.

Whole-grain crackers and cheese or a cup of cereal with milk, a piece of whole-grain toast with sugar-free peanut butter (yes, most peanut butter has added sugar), or a scrambled egg all make perfect bedtime snacks. 

Things to Avoid with Your Bedtime Carbs

Fatty Foods 

It takes a long time for your body to digest fat. It’s important to avoid greasy, fatty foods just before bed because they will not only make you uncomfortable – they will take longer to break down and disrupt your sleep. 


Because sugar causes spikes in blood sugar followed by crashes, your body is in a constant battle to regain balance. During a sugar crash, you will become fatigued, and sleep may come quickly.

However, the inflammation caused by eating sugar disrupts restorative processes that occur while you’re sleeping and can harm the overall quality of your sleep.

Common Sleep Distractions 

You know that you have to eat the right things to sleep well, and that good carbs are a great benefit to you during this time. But other actions you take will impact the quality of your sleep, too.

That’s why it’s essential to understand what else can affect your rest and how you can alter your habits to make your lifestyle conducive to both productive days and quiet, refreshing evenings.

Let’s take a look at some tips to keep in mind as you look for the best sleep routine that works well for you.

Blue Light

One of the biggest distractions that can impact your sleep is blue light.

You might not be aware that not every light emits the same wavelengths or that this can affect your behavior or health in any way, but it can have quite a significant impact on your mood and energy levels.

Blue light is the light that we encounter most commonly throughout our day because it comes from electronic devices. Your phone emits blue light, for example, as does your laptop. And that’s okay during the daytime because blue light can improve your energy levels and focus.

When nighttime rolls around, however, blue light can become a severe issue. Because it boosts your energy, it can significantly disrupt your ability to fall asleep.

The best way to combat this issue is to refine your surroundings just like you do your diet. You know to cut bad carbs out of your meals, especially around bedtime, right? Do the same thing with blue light.

Consider this “bad light” during the night, if you’d like, and stop looking at it at least a few hours before bed. Try instead stowing away your electronics and opting for a more traditional evening activity like reading.

If you really must use your phone or laptop, consider installing a filter to help alter the blue light to be easier on your sleep cycle.


Life is full of stressors. That’s true even when things are going well, and you’re happy, but it’s especially true when you hit a snag at work or home.

Stress can quickly spiral and become a massive issue that impacts your ability to function every day. One of the main ways it does this is by disrupting your sleep.

When you’re under a lot of stress, you might often feel as though you’re panicking. Your heart might race, for example, and your breathing will likely speed up.

You might not notice either of these symptoms, of course, because you’re busy worrying about life. But they happen, and they make relaxing almost impossible.

The good news is that there are simple things you can do to combat stress, especially at night.

The most important takeaway is that self-care should become a priority for you if you’re under a lot of stress. You want to do things that make you feel happy and peaceful so that you can relax and fall asleep.

For some people, that means taking a hot shower or bath and reading a bit of their favorite book. Others find that nighttime yoga routines that are gentle and soothing can help them work their stress out in healthy ways while promoting peace in their bodies and minds.

Find out what makes you feel better and do that every night before bed. It’s okay to indulge here – just as you nourish your body with good food; you should feed your mind with happy activities to promote good sleep and overall health. 


When you’re decorating your home, you might opt for tastefully placed “clutter” here and there to give the room a lived-in feeling.

When it comes to your bedroom, however, you’ll want to avoid this altogether.

When you’re in a place that is messy or cluttered with too many things, it can throw your mind and emotions into disarray. You might even begin to feel anxious without understanding why.

If that happens, take a look at your room and give it the critical eye. Is it neat and clean?

To help ensure that you’re able to lay down and rest secure, it’s essential to keep your room as clean and sparse as possible. That doesn’t mean it has to be bare, of course, but it does mean that everything should have its place.

Keep the space organized and maintain the organization every day. You might also want to dedicate the room just to sleeping and remove any televisions or other electronics that could catch your attention when you’re trying to rest.

Consider painting your walls a soft, peaceful hue, too, to complement the clean and orderly surroundings.


Girl waking up in bed after good nights sleep

We each have our way of preparing for bed at night. Some read or take a warm bath, while others work at their computers until they can no longer keep their eyes open.

It’s relevant to remember, however, that everything we do during the day contributes in some way to how well we sleep, including what we eat.

Despite an unhealthy reliance on over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, our society is not getting enough sleep. Science is making it clear that we need to pay more attention to nutrition and its role in improving sleep. You’re not only what you eat, but what you eat is how you sleep.

Begin by overhauling your diet and ensuring that you’re eating plenty of good carbs while avoiding the bad ones. And look to get exercise

If you’re still struggling to fall asleep, take a look at the sleep disruptions and solutions we’ve listed above. You can go through them one-by-one and pick the options that make the most sense to your life and your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the questions most frequently asked by our readers.

1. What are healthy carbs? 

Healthy carbs refer to carbohydrates rich in nutrients, fiber and have a low glycemic index. Examples include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unprocessed sources of carbohydrates.

2. How do healthy carbs affect sleep? 

Consuming healthy carbs before bed can promote better sleep due to their impact on serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and mood. Healthy carbs increase the availability of tryptophan, an amino acid that aids in serotonin production, leading to improved sleep quality.

3. How do healthy carbs differ from unhealthy carbs? 

Unhealthy carbs, often referred to as refined or processed carbs, are stripped of their fiber and nutrients during processing. These include white bread, sugary foods, pastries, and processed snacks.

Unhealthy carbs have a high glycemic index and can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to energy crashes and disrupted sleep patterns.

4. Can eating healthy carbs before bed cause weight gain? 

Eating healthy carbs before bed, in moderation, is unlikely to cause weight gain. In fact, they can support weight management by providing sustained energy and reducing late-night cravings for unhealthy snacks. 

It's essential to consider portion sizes and include a balance of other macronutrients in your diet.

5. Which specific healthy carbs are best for promoting sleep? 

Several healthy carbs are particularly beneficial for promoting sleep. Some examples include whole-grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. 

These foods offer a combination of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and essential nutrients that contribute to better sleep.

6. When should I consume healthy carbs for better sleep? 

Consuming healthy carbs a few hours before bedtime can positively impact on sleep. This allows your body enough time to digest the food and regulate blood sugar levels. 

It's generally recommended to have a well-balanced dinner that includes a reasonable portion of healthy carbs.

7. Can everyone benefit from incorporating healthy carbs into their diet for better sleep? 

While healthy carbs can improve sleep for many people, individual responses may vary. 

Factors such as overall diet, lifestyle, and underlying health conditions can influence the effectiveness of incorporating healthy carbs for improved sleep. 

It's always best to consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized advice.

8. Are there other lifestyle factors that enhance the benefits of healthy carbs for sleep? 

In addition to consuming healthy carbs, adopting a sleep-friendly lifestyle can enhance the benefits.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, practicing relaxation techniques before bed, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and electronics close to bedtime can all contribute to better sleep quality.

9. Can healthy carbs be part of a balanced diet for overall health? 

Absolutely! Healthy carbs are an essential part of a balanced diet. They provide essential nutrients, fiber, and energy for optimal bodily functions. Incorporating healthy carbs with proteins, healthy fats, and other nutrients supports overall health, including sleep quality.

10. Are there any specific health conditions where consuming healthy carbs before bed should be avoided? 

Individuals with certain health conditions, such as diabetes or specific dietary restrictions, may need to manage their carbohydrate intake differently. 

It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to ensure that your dietary choices align with your specific health needs and goals.

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