I've recently noticed that on days when I perform "high intensity" exercise (either heavy compound weight training or sprints) I end up with insomnia and toss and turn the whole night. I've been paleo (plus pastured butter and cheese) for a year and a half now, and have been weight training consistently for two years, but the insomnia has only appeared in the last few months. I thought I might be overtraining, so I took two weeks off to rest, but the insomnia came right back when I started up again. I've also tried taking magnesium (Natural Calm), but if anything, that seems to make it worse. I try not to train for more than 45 minutes (much less for sprints) and generally do my workouts before noon. Anyone else have this problem? Or have any idea what's physiologically causing it?
Update: I think Eva nailed it. I tried upping the carbs in that half hour after working out, and then again an hour before bed (instead of keeping to the usual 16 hour fast). Slept like a rock. Thank you Eva! Of course, now I'm going to have to rethink my whole low carb approach to paleo... Maybe I can just try to cycle them more to match my exercise levels?
asked byJonathan (865)
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on July 21, 2010
at 04:29 AM
I am going to take a guess and wonder if it might be glycogen depletion. If you have been slowly increasing your weight load and amount of muscle, your glycogen needs may be going up and you may have reached a point where you are drastically depleting glycogen during workouts to the point where the body is uncomfortable for a while until it has time to replenish. The fact that you only experience this after high intensity workouts, which are the workouts that tend to burn a lot more glycogen, could be a big clue. You may simply need to eat more carbs before and/or right after such types of workouts to boost your glycogen supply. Eat healthy carbs like fruits or sweet potatoes. The science of the exact timing of carboloading compared to the exercise is a whole giant other conversation though and one in which I am certainly not an expert. I do know that many suggest such carb intake to occur within a half hour of the end of the exercise. Many athletes who do a lot of glycogen burning type exercise find they need to up their carb intake to compensate. If that does not work for you, then it may mean you need to do a bit of carboload before the intense exercise as well.
on July 21, 2010
at 06:57 PM
In response to Glenn, I would like to mention that if glycogen is depleted, it may be depleted in both muscles and liver. Fructose going to the liver when the liver is depleted of glycogen will first by converted to glycogen until glycogen is replenished. Only after glycogen is replenished will the fructose be converted to triglycerides. The trick is to eat just enough fructose to replenish the liver glycogen levels but not more beyond that. Since the liver uses its glycogen to control blood sugar levels and prevent hypoglycemia, liver glycogen depletion could also be the source of the insomnia. Insomnia is one known symptom of hypoglycemia and adrenalin release is a typical body response to hypoglycemia. In addition, many fruits contain both fructose and glucose. In the case of glycogen depletion, fructose goes to the liver to replenish glycogen and the sucrose goes to the muscles. It can actually work out quite nicely if done right. -Eva
on July 21, 2010
at 07:11 AM
Dr Mike Eades noticed a lot of his low-carb patients had trouble falling asleep when they were deep in ketosis, and he actually recommends a little (A LITTLE!) sugar right before bed. Since paleo diet is usually low-carb, this advice might apply:
You want the room to be dark. The pineal gland releases melatonin as a response to darkness, and its function is to help you get to sleep. It has antioxidant properties, along with many other functions, but you will be taking it to sleep. There is a fall off in melatonin release by the pituitary with aging, which is one of the reasons people have more difficulty sleeping as they get older. So, try the melatonin if you're having trouble. The other thing you can do is to have a cup of herbal tea right before bedtime. And sweeten the tea with either sugar or honey. That's right. Real sugar. A teaspoon of sugar is about 5 grams of carb, which won't do a lot to hinder your weight loss, but it will be enough to shut down ketone production long enough to get you to sleep. And if you think a teaspoon of sugar isn't all that much, remember, it's the total amount circulating in your blood if you have a normal blood sugar.
I don't know if he just learned this through experience or found some studies showing acute ketosis makes it harder to sleep, but I'd like to find out!
on August 14, 2013
at 04:15 PM
Your workouts are raising your cortisol levels, and cortisol is notorious for causing insomnia. Unfortunately, studies show that the older you get (especially men) the longer it takes elevated cortisol to go back down. In fact, it's one of the reasons men lose or nearly lose the ability to fall into and stay into the deepest stages of sleep from middle age on. You can get the same effect by having a big fight with someone before bed---you won't sleep, no matter how hard you try. Women, alas, regulate their cortisol better than men, and their levels will go back down sooner after a big workout.
After living with this problem (exercise causing insomnia, over 25 years), I can tell you that well-meaning people will come up with no shortage of anecdotal information that probably won't help you, although you should certainly try different things.
What works for me, after lots of trial and error: dial back the exercise. Do very short intervals, maybe two or three per day, because the longer you exercise the more your cortisol goes up. Try meditation, but not just once in awhile. It's the cumulative effect of calming on a daily basis that will help keep the cortisol down. Also, low or no carb diet will elevate cortisol and you'll have trouble sleeping.
on November 28, 2012
at 12:45 AM
"Rest more during reps and get your lactic acid levels down."
Keeping the lactic acid levels up is the main point of reps (at least in running) as it teaches you both physically and mentally how to cope with accumulated blood lactate. If you rest for longer the session is not as beneficial (obviously depending on what the rest period is in the first place!)
on September 23, 2012
at 05:17 AM
You should add sweet potatoes to your Paleo-diet it you're lifting weights. It's a great source of carbs.
on June 01, 2012
at 12:19 PM
I know it's heresy here, but I had the exact same problem for years on a low carb diet. I started using sports gels immediately after vigorous exercise, and the insomnia disappeared within days. Glycogen depletion clearly has this effect with some people.
on January 19, 2012
at 09:40 PM
Your answer to the question of why exercise causes insomnia has been a tremendous help to me! No one believed me that intense cardio was keeping me up at night, but I know that was it because whenever I took a day off, I slept. Now I have a 1/2 of grapefruit after my workout and also right before bed... and I sleep like a baby. I know you didn't suggest it right before bed but for some reason that is what works for me. I was able to do P90X Plyometrics and sleep soundly! That has never happened before:) Thanks again!
on December 02, 2011
at 03:44 PM
Wish I knew the answer because I definitely experience the same thing. I'm gonna chalk it up to the damned if you do damned if you don't theory untill I figure out. I wonder if age has anything to do with it. I've been hitting it hard for 50 years now.
on June 08, 2011
at 06:13 AM
Dont use any SUGAR(S)!! or products that are converted into sugars. in certain individuals sugar causes insomnia.
often insomnia is caused by food intolerances, also preservatives, food colourants, and many other additives that go into our food intake, also food suppliments.
Physiological: some individuals are genetically predisposed to preform exceptionally well during physical exertion, other are not. It stands to reason, if everyone was capable of high intensity exercise there would be more people in gyms , on bicycles, running, swimming etc, however, this is not the case.
I don’t think that any real research has gone into insomnia and exercise. Rest more during reps and get your lactic acid levels down.
on February 18, 2011
at 05:51 PM
Thanks so very much for your reply! Since I stumped my doctors, I have be scouring the internet trying to figure out why exercising brings on my insomnia. What you've said makes a lot of since. I follow a restricted carbohydrate diet, mostly because my body has a difficult time handling sugars. Normally, it makes me feel great. But, it also makes it hard for me to sleep, especially on an intense work out day when I combine my cardio with strength training.
I only have one small problem with following what you have said - I have hereditary fructose intolerance. This means that I can't have any fruits or foods containing fructose. Do you have a recommendation for another type of carbohydrate that I can consumer after a workout that would work to replenish my glycogen quickly?
on July 23, 2010
at 01:50 PM
Seth Roberts swears that saturated fat helps him sleep better. I assume you're eating a fair amount of it, but either way, this is one of many of his interesting blog entries:
He's a professor of psychology and a big self-experimenter. He's tenacious about chasing down effects that seem like they can't possibly be correlated.
on July 21, 2010
at 04:38 AM
Eva's answer sounds about right. I have experienced this same phenomenon on numerous occasions, but only after really long runs (during marathon training) which could exhaust glycogen stores. Although I'm not sure how depleted glycogen stores would translate into insomnia.