Whey protein is a great supplement. Whether you use it to build muscle, maintain muscle mass in a diet or just to eat healthier. But often, nutrition and sleep are somehow connected. So I asked myself: “Can whey protein cause sleeplessness?”. And I really want to know the answer to this question. So let’s find out everything about the effects of whey on sleep.
If you are in a hurry: The result is that whey protein does not cause sleeplessness. There are two factors that will influence your sleep quality: Drinking too much whey and drinking it too late (before going to bed). In general, a reasonable amount of whey protein during the day even improves your sleep quality and prevents sleeplessness. Also, your workout intensity is an important factor for your sleep. Let’s get into everything in more detail.
What I’m going to do is find out everything I can about whey protein and its connection to sleeplessness. And also, I’m going to bring in my own experiences. Just pure theory would be boring. So stay tuned and let’s jump right into the topics.
Contents we need to find out if whey protein causes sleeplessness:
- What is whey protein?
- Difference between regular protein and whey
- Do we need food while sleeping?
- How does protein affect sleep?
- Can whey cause sleeplessness?
- Can workouts cause sleeplessness?
- Which food to avoid before sleep?
- How to improve your sleep with whey protein
All these topics are key elements to understanding if whey protein can cause sleeplessness and how we can solve the problem if it does.
Personally, I work out for a few years now. Not professional bodybuilding, just staying fit and in shape in a world of fast food and laziness. My goal is to stay healthy and to have a better shape than most other people. I go to university and I see a lot of people forget to take care of their own bodies and live unhealthily. And because you are reading this blog post you probably ask yourself the same question as I do. After working out in the evening and drinking a post-workout shake I sometimes feel like I can’t sleep well.
What’s the reason? Does whey protein affect your sleep and even cause sleeplessness? Let’s find out together!
What is Whey Protein And How Does It Differ From Other Protein?
Generally, a protein is the bodies building block. It is responsible for building cell tissue like for example muscle. Therefore protein is supplemented in sports that require a lot of regeneration like bodybuilding or fitness. It is supplemented to supply your body with additional building blocks to regenerate and build your muscles.
But there’s not only one sort of protein, there are many. They include whey protein, casein, soy, egg or vegan versions like rice protein or bean protein. The reason many people chose whey protein as their go-to supplement instead of rice or soy is the high absorption rate and digestibility.
Whey: High Digestibility and contains all Essential Amino Acids (Your body loves it)
The so-called Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score(PDCAAS) tells you how well your body can use a protein. The score ranges from 0 to 1, zero being the worst and 1 the best possible score. While rice protein has a PDCAAS of 0.5, whey has a score of 1.
It is quickly absorbed and digested, which is why it’s loved as a post-workout supplement to support muscle growth. Therefore, whey is the most popular protein supplement. And on top of that, it’s often cheaper than the other protein sources, because it is a byproduct of cheese production.
Amino Acids in Protein act as Building Blocks
Proteins are composed of amino acids. And there are 9 amino acids that are essential to us, that our body can’t produce on its own. That’s why they are called “essential amino acids”. Because we can’t produce them on our own, we have to get them from food. The great thing about whey is that it contains all 9 essential amino acids, which is why it’s called a “complete protein”. In contrast, vegan protein doesn’t contain all essential amino acids. That makes whey superior to them.
Because you most likely drink protein shakes in the evening after a successful workout, you might wonder if there’s a connection between your sleep issues and the protein. And that’s what we’re going find out now.
Do we need food while sleeping?
Yes, we all know that food is great. We love to eat delicious meals and snacks. But does your body require nutrition while you sleep?
First off, food is a source of energy for you. Your body needs a regular supply of energy in the form of glucose. Glucose is nothing more than a specific type of sugar you get from food. Glucose travels through your blood to reach your cells (that’s what they mean with blood sugar). Your cells then use the energy to contract muscles, fire nerves and to regulate your body temperature. Your body produces glucose on its own by breaking down the food you eat. Mostly it’s from carbohydrates, but if you lack carbohydrates, your body is able to get its energy from fat and protein as well.
Digestion slows down while sleeping
While that’s all great at daytime, at nighttime our body behaves quite differently. As you most likely know, you are very inactive while you sleep. You don’t move a lot and you breathe very slowly. While you sleep, your body is preparing for the next day. It’s fixing your muscles, fighting bacteria and getting toxins out of your brain. By the way: That’s the reason you can’t think well when you are tired or after you just woke up. And because your body is so busy with all these repairing activities, it slows down your digestive system to a really slow pace. Basically, everything you eat right before going to bed will stay in your stomach for a long time before it’s digested.
We can say that at night our body uses what we have digested at day time. Because at night the digestive system is slowed down a lot, your body doesn’t really use what you ate right before bed. Or if it does, it takes a lot of time and effort. Therefore you can say that yes, our body needs the energy from food at night. But it does not want to digest it while sleeping. It wants everything already digested so it can focus on fixing cell tissues, muscles, and your brain. We do not need food in our stomach while sleeping.
How does whey protein affect sleep? – Does it cause sleeplessness?
Now, let’s find out how protein impacts sleep quality. Researchers found out that a low protein intake (if less than 16% of energy comes from protein) can be associated with worse sleep quality (this study). Does that mean, we can now eat a lot of protein and then sleep like a baby? Sadly, It’s not that easy. High protein intake was associated with difficulty maintaining sleep in the same study.
To me, that doesn’t sound like a great result. Another study at Purdue University though had two groups of people attempting to lose weight. The first group had a high protein intake while the other group had a low protein intake. The result was that the group with high protein intake ranked their sleep quality higher than the group with low protein intakes.
I am sure this is caused by the bodies enhanced ability to repair. If you have a low protein intake, your body will struggle to fix everything while you sleep because it lacks building blocks (amino acids). After a low sleep quality night, your body won’t feel refreshed and energized. This could be a reason that not supplementing whey causes sleeplessness (at least if you workout).
Prevent muscle loss while sleeping
On top of that, your muscle regeneration is way worse than if you ate enough protein. Which means you won’t build muscle the fastest way possible. And if you lack protein at night you will not build muscle, you will lose muscle. That’s because the body breaks down muscle cells if it is not supplied with enough protein and uses these muscle cells as an energy source.
Your struggles with sleeplessness also might be caused somewhere else. I developed my own sleeping strategy and it uses earplugs. What? Yes, right. Check out the crazy sleep improvement experiences I made with earplugs and how I use them every day!
Try to get your protein from whole foods
To support your sleep and fitness progress I recommend putting a high-protein component in your dinner. But you can also just supplement whey. In this case, it might be even better to supplement with casein, which is much more slowly digested than whey. Therefore it “feeds” your body all night long.
To conclude this, we can assume that high protein intake, even before going to bed generally improves the quality of our sleep. There’s no reason you would stop eating protein in the evening. Just make sure you don’t drink too much whey, so you don’t feel bloated. I’m sure you know that feeling bloated doesn’t improve your sleep quality.
Can Whey Cause Sleeplessness?
The previous paragraph about protein and sleep should have answered this question already. Protein, in general, can improve your sleep. If whey is the best protein source (regarding digestibility), why should it be any different and harm your sleep? Whey itself definitely can not cause sleeplessness.
Sleeplessness is often caused by some stupid mistakes you do unconciously. Check out the 5 most stupid sleep destroying mistakes you do every day.
But what else makes it hard for you to fall asleep at night? If you are working out late and you are drinking a whey protein shake afterwards, the cause of your sleeplessness might be your workout itself. There’s a chance you’ve just misidentified the roots of your sleeping problems. So let’s find out if workouts can influence your sleep!
Can Workouts Cause Sleeplessness?
If whey protein itself does not cause sleeplessness, why is it that we still can’t sleep after an evening workout and a post-workout-shake? Well, as you now know whey enhances your ability to restore during sleep. But if you go to bed after a hard workout session, you will still experience sleeplessness.
Pumping iron before going to bed (and even a few hours before bed) is not always the wisest decision regarding sleep quality. A workout can cause sleeplessness or sleeping problems because of
- raised heart rate
- boost of adrenalin and cortisol
- higher body temperature
But that is not always the case! Multiple studies also showed that working out in the evening improves our sleep quality drastically for most people. Therefore, we can conclude that most people benefit from late workouts. Meanwhile, there are some people who don’t. If your sleep doesn’t benefit from workouts you might be doing one of two things:
- you workout too hard
- you workout too light
From working out too light your body won’t be able to get tired enough. But the good thing about this is you can easily fix this. Just workout harder. The harder you work out, the better you sleep (as long as you don’t exaggerate it). There is a reason soldiers who run and work out all day sleep like a baby.
Overtraining causes sleeplessness
If you, on the other hand, work out way too hard, get your foot off the gas pedal. Stressing your body too much not only results in sleeplessness but also harms your muscle growth. If you overtrain, your muscles will shrink, not grow (because you destroy more muscle than you can rebuild). On top of that, it will harm your immune system (see this study).
To frame what we just discussed, workouts generally improve your sleep quality. You should just avoid them right before sleep, so your heart rate and body temperature can normalize before you go to bed. If you go to bed several hours after working out and still feel sleeplessness, you are most likely over- or undertraining (most likely overtraining). To get a good night of sleep, have a heavy workout session 2 hours before bedtime.
Which food to avoid before sleep?
Other causes of your sleeplessness at night could be the food you eat. Here’s a list of foods that can decrease your sleep quality.
Foods that cause sleeplessness
- Everything that contains caffeine. The most obvious ones in this list are coffee and coke. You can boost your productivity by drinking coffee while you work. It blocks melatonin and therefore keeps you wide awake. Avoid coffee and coke at all costs. I recommend not to drink them any later than 5 hours before bedtime as they will destroy your sleep rhythm.
- Spicy foods. I love spicy foods. And you probably also. Still, you should keep spicy dishes away from you before going to bed. Spicy foods not only raise your body temperature (some people get red heads), also they increase your heart rate and set your body into an active mode.
- Alcohol. Drinks that contain alcohol are not only incredibly damaging and unhealthy by themselves. They also cause sleeping problems. Contrary to the popular belief that alcohol makes you sleep better, it only makes you fall asleep faster. Still, your sleep quality decreases, because your body is busy with detoxicating instead of restoring your energy.
- Heavy meals before going to bed. Please avoid everything that fills your stomach. Just as too spicy foods, too heavy meals (too much fat, protein, carbs) increase your heart rate and body temperature. Prefer eating light foods in the evening and don’t eat right before going to bed.
If you are eating anything that’s mentioned on this list before going to bed, you can be 100% sure you’ve found the reason you struggle with sleeplessness at night.
How to improve your Sleep with Whey Protein? – Avoid Sleeplessness
To conclude everything said before, we found out that generally, protein-rich nutrition enhances your sleep. Only if you bloat your stomach with too much of it, you will struggle to fall asleep. Therefore, you can generally say whey protein does increase your sleep quality if you consume it at the right time. The right time though is not in the evening before going to bed. Time your whey intake in such a way, that you take it 2 hours before going to sleep. You can digest whey pretty well, so 2 hours is definitely a good choice. Other proteins like casein, for example, take a lot longer. To improve your avoid sleeplessness with whey protein and maximize the benefits of protein, timing your whey consumption is vital.
How do you time your whey consumption to maximize sleep quality?
If you go and workout in the evening and you want to sleep afterward, I don’t recommend drinking any whey (as long as it’s directly before sleep). To improve your sleep quality, you can simply drink your shake before a workout instead of afterwards. This not only prevents you from bloating your belly but also it will improve your muscle growth. While working out, muscle gets destroyed because your body might use protein as an energy source. Making amino acids from whey available to your body lowers muscle breakdown.
Simplified, muscle synthesis (growth) is just the number of built muscle minus the number of destroyed muscle. Minimizing muscle breakdown, therefore, improves the equation.
Drink Whey before your workout to prevent sleeplessness
Also, you know that maximizing your sleep quality is important for your fitness. Do yourself a favor and drink whey before instead of after your workout. Remember this only applies, if you workout late! A whey shake after a morning workout routine won’t harm your sleep at all. Your sleep quality is only affected by whey if you drink a shake before going to bed. Avoid supplementing protein too late.
Another overnight protein source would be casein as it needs a lot more time to digest. It will supply you with amino acids for the whole night. Because it is digested slowly, it will make you feel full for a lot longer. So, casein might be a good choice for muscle building overnight. But feeling full does not benefit your sleep at all. That’s something you have to decide yourself. I would avoid it. To minimize the bloated-feeling just space out the time when you supplement and when you sleep.
Can Whey Protein Cause Sleeplessness? – No!
And that’s everything you need to know about whey protein and if it causes sleeplessness. Whey protein can’t cause sleeplessness, it can even improve your sleep quality by supplying your body with important amino acids. Only try to avoid whey protein right before sleep. As long as you follow this rule, you don’t need to worry.
If you still feel you have problems falling asleep, check out the magic of sleep masks. I have some secret tips inside this article, that made me go from falling asleep in 1 hour to a few minutes using just a sleep mask.