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Carbohydrates, Energy and Sleep

We need sugars for survival. Glucose is the primary fuel of the brain and without adequate blood sugar levels, illness and even death can result as anyone who has suffered with hypoglycaemia can attest. When we consume carbohydrates (sugars) in a meal, depending on the type, several things can happen. Complex sugars are first acted upon in the mouth by the enzyme amylase. Amylase begins breaking the bonds between sugars, which helps to make digestion of the smaller molecules a more easy and less time-consuming process. The action of amylase is halted in the stomach, and carbohydrates are further broken down in the small intestines. Soon, they are absorbed throgh the intestinal lining and enter the blood stream (general circulation).

Upon entering the blood, sugars are then transported to the liver, where some are stored and the rest are stored in muscle tissue. In fact, a high carbohydrate meal can temporarily increase the size of a muscle. This is why after a high-carbohydrate meal, we can feel a "pump" in the muscle. This is beneficial after high-intensity activities such as weightlifting.

In the human, sugars are stored as as large carbohydrate molecules. Storing sugars in this fashion allows for space conservation, similar to packing boxes in a limited storage room. When sugars are required for energy, they are simply removed from the larger molecule.

When we choose our diet, it is a good strategy to consider what type of carbohydrate to consume and for what reason. For example, during the early and mid-day, consuming "processed" or "simple" sugars will give us a very quick "boost" in energy, but most likely for only a very short while. The reason for this short boost in energy is obviously because by eating a candy bar or other foodstuff containing simple sugars, we quickly increase the level of sugar in the blood. However, the higher than normal level of sugar is quickly detected and in response, the pancreas liberates a hormone called insulin. Insulin functions in causing sugars to be stored for later use. The higher than normal level of blood sugar causes a surge of insulin secretion. This is, of course, to return the level of sugar in the blood back to normal. However, the large surge of insulin can cause too much sugar to be moved out of the blood for storage, and this results in even lower amounts of sugar in the blood than before. This can cause fatigue, tiredness, and sometimes depression. Complex carbohydrates, however, are digested more slowly and "burn" or metabolize more slowly. This is a good strategy to control your insulin levels, and is also very important for modifying health and maintaining mood.

Using this strategy, we can see that a light, sugar-containing meal in the evening may even help us fall asleep !! What other strategies can help us to sleep. Read about the amino acid called tryptophan.

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