This research involves specialized cells in the command and control center of your subconscious brain (hypothalamus gland). These cells are called orexins and they feed a specific nerve network referred to as hypocretins. Protein turns them on and carbohydrates turn them off.
I first explained this subject back in 2008 in my article, Teen Sleep Problems Lead to Depression & Drug Abuse. This article focused on how this nerve network got overheated, resulting in anxiety and nervousness during the day and trouble sleeping at night. I explained how pleasure/reward turned off the excess stimulation, thus resulting in potential for addiction to anything, including drugs.
This new research focuses on the other side of the coin – what if this system is turned too low resulting in sleepiness during the day, sluggish metabolism, and a lack of motivation?
Clearly, we all want to be in the middle, where we feel properly energized and awake during the day, have normal drive to accomplish goals and attain rewards that has nothing to do with addictive tendencies, and we sleep properly at night.
This is another angle on why protein at breakfast is so important. It not only gets your liver into metabolism gear, we can now say it also gets your brain turned on. It also helps explain why high sugar snacks or high carbohydrate/low protein meals can make a person tired. Too much sugar landing on these tells turns your head off. The researchers also found that when protein and carbohydrate were contained in the same meal then protein prevented the carbohydrates from binding to these cells.
There are many practical applications for this information. People who tend to be anxious and not sleep well will want to have low protein at dinner and higher carbohydrates, thereby assisting the ability to go to sleep properly. Lunch can be a mix of protein and carbohydrate and the right mix for you means your head stays awake during the afternoon and you have some drive to get things done. If you don’t feel that way, you are probably eating too many carbohydrates and if you feel wired and anxious in the afternoon you may have had too much protein. In general, people needing to lose weight need more protein, especially at breakfast and lunch, and possibly at dinner, to keep their metabolism activated. If you get too much you might have trouble sleeping. One size does not fit all – so pay attention to what you are eating and how your energy level and motivational drive responds to different types of meals.